Robin sparkles in India’s 2-0 win over Sri Lanka in SAFF Cup

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 25 (IANS) Robin Singh’s post break brace enabled a dominant India to begin their South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup campaign with a 2-0 win against Sri Lanka here on Friday.

Robin broke the deadlock on 51 minutes and then extended the advantage 22 minutes later. It was the second consecutive match in which the burly striker scored for the national colours after a match-winning goal against Guam in a 2018 World Cup qualifier on November 12.

Sri Lanka beat Nepal 1-0 in the opening game of the tournament on Wednesday but was evidently inferior against the home side at the Trivandrum International Stadium.

Coach Stephen Constantine opted for a cautious 5-4-1 formation against a team ranked 28 places behind them in the 166th-ranked India, naming Robin Singh the lone striker. He pegged back forward Jeje Lalpekhlua, impressive for Chennaiyin FC’s trophy-lifting Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, to the midfield and winger Sanju Pradhan as a right back.

But it didn’t stifle India’s initial attacks, which primarily arose from the right flank where Sanju pushed up confidently.

The hosts steadily increased their supremacy on the ball with predominance on crosses from the right wing. One such cross found an unmarked Sunil Chhetri. But his header from an acute angle was blocked out by goalkeeper Sujan Perera in the fifth minute.

But the first realistic chance was created in the 10th by India’s “Player of the Year” Eugeneson Lyngdoh whose intelligent overhead ball exposed a big gap between the two Sri Lankan central defenders and Perera.

It allowed Jeje to run past the two defenders and be in a one-on-one position with the goalkeeper. But his attempted scoop lacked finesse and rammed into the onrushing Perera.

Jeje bungled again when his diving left footed effort, just past the half hour, went over.

By then India were slowly pushing Sri Lanka back in their own half and winning corners from both the corners of the ground. The sustained pressure forced the Islanders to retreat towards their own box, aiming to crowd out the Indians who buoyantly moved up.

The visitors were unable to string together a couple of passes together, let alone mustering any meaningful moves.

Chhetri’s menacing diagonal run inside the box, beating two defenders, raised hopes of breaking the deadlock but his shot was blocked out to keep it goalless at half-time.

The much-yearned goal arrived six minutes after the resumption of play. Chhetri got the better of two defenders to run to the left byline and then cut back the ball to an unaccounted Robin who banged a prompt left footer in from six yards.

The ascendancy of India’s offensive play shifted to the left after the break. Chhetri drifted to the flank constantly to create space to run into that paved the way for the crucial goal.

Their cause was made easier by their opponent’s inability to exhibit any willingness or ability to fight.

The Indians bossed the field and Robin duly doubled the margin with a weak right footer after rushing past two defenders, pulling a muscle in the process to be immediately substituted, which could be Constantine’s only major worry before Sunday’s Group A match against Nepal.

In Saturday’s double header, Bangladesh take on Maldives while defending champions Afghanistan face Bhutan.

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