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Chhetri`s hat-trick sinks Pakistan as India begin SAFF Championships with a win


India’s talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri on Wednesday he became the second highest scorer from the Asian side in international football with a stunning hat-trick as India beat Pakistan 4-0 in their SAFF Championship opener. Iran’s Ali Daei holds the record with 109 goals in 149 games. Chhetri has 90 goals to his name.

From the start of the game itself India brought their experience and class to bear on the game. Pakistan had pockets of resistance, but they did not match India’s cohesion and purpose on a rainy night at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

Chhetri showed flashes of his exciting self in the Intercontinental Cup final against Lebanon in Odisha on Sunday, and the Indian skipper stepped up on his `home turf’.

After quickly feeling out the surface and their opponents, India started the goal rush as early as the 10th minute through Chhetri, who netted three fine field goals.

Also Read: Chaos ensues as Indo-Pak players clash in SAFF Championship, Stimac expelled

Six minutes later, the talismanic forward doubled the lead through a penalty and at 2-0, the direction the game was taking was clear.

India pushed for more goals in the first half, but they could not add to the tally as Pakistan’s defense was their own. India also missed a few chances, though not easy, to put pressure on their rivals.

However, the first half ended on a rather disappointing note for India despite taking a 2-0 lead. Coach Igor Stimac’s needless attempt to prevent a Pakistani player from throwing in resulted in a red card, and he had to leave the dugout for the night.

But that did not quicken India’s momentum in the second half. The hosts pushed forward like a giant wave in search of more goals. The big moment came in the 74th minute when India made it 3-0.

Chhetri was brought down inside the box by Pakistan defenders and referee Prajwal Chhetri awarded India a penalty, which the Indian skipper converted to complete his hat-trick, putting the game beyond Pakistan’s grasp.

From that point, it was a case of India’s margin of victory and Udanta Singh made things worse for the visitors with a goal in the 81st minute. Receiving a pass from Sandesh Jhingan, Udanta made a good, quick run down the field to slot the ball past the Pakistan goalkeeper.

“Happy to keep clean sheets, happy to start a tournament. Games in these types of conditions are never easy. People happy to turn up, this is great, this is what we play for,” said Chhetri after the game.

It was an outstanding display from India that inspired the crowd of 22,860 who packed the stadium despite the heavy rain. India will face Nepal in the second match of Group A on Saturday.

(With agency input)

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