Calcutta/Yangon: Robin Singh did the star turn for India, striking the winner in the injury time, as Sunil Chetri & Co. began their AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers campaign with a 2-1 victory over Chinese Taipei, on Saturday.
In another match, Myanmar thrashed Guam 5-0.
Robin, who came in as late substitute for Jewel Raja, scored the winning goal in the 91st minute after Chinese Taipei had equalised through Lee Tai Lin in the 54th minute.
Jewel Raja had given India the lead in the 40th minute of an assist from captain Sunil at the Youth Training Centre ground.
Robin, who took the field in the 82nd minute, headed in the winner by connecting a fine cross from the right by midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi.
India began the match with a 4-5-1 formation, with goalkeeper Subrata Paul, defenders Nirmal Chetri and Gurjinder Kumar and midfielder Jewel Raja all making the first XI. For the record, Gurjinder made his international debut.
Coach Wim Koevermans left out goalkeeper Sandip Nandy, Denzil Franco and Alwyn George, all of whom had featured in the friendly against Palestine in Pune last month.
At the start, India had the better of the exchanges. They kept ball possession and played short and probing passes.
It was, however, the Chinese Taipei who had the first chance of the game in the 13th minute when they got a free-kick from around 25 yards. Subrata had to dive to full length to pull off a stunning save of the shot off midfielder Su De Cai.
Soon after, India regrouped and midfielder Mehtab Hussain had the first chance for India. With only the opposition goalkeeper to beat, he failed to put the ball past him.
India earned five corners in the first half-an-hour and Gurjinder came agonisingly close to heading one in, only to miss the mark by a whisker.
After a series of raids at the rival citadel, India surged ahead in the 40th minute. Jewel Raja, after playing one-twos with Sunil, slipped past two rival defenders, to trap Sunil’s through pass before sending it past the rival goalkeeper Lun Kun Chi.
Chinese Taipei regrouped after change of ends and cancelled out India’s halftime 1-0 lead in the 54th minute with Lee Tai Lin heading in Su De Cai’s corner.
The goal pushed the Indians on the backfoot and all of a sudden, Chinese Taipei started to dominate the proceedings.
It was only when Nabi was introduced in the 68th minute that India got their foothold back. The midfielder made his usual run-downs at the flanks before releasing teasing crosses.
Koevermans also brought in Robin in place of Jewel Raja in the 82nd minute and the move seemed to have clicked as India ransacked the opponent citadel. However, the game looked like heading for a draw as India failed to find the final pass until the first minute of injury time when Robin leaped high to head in Nabi’s centre from the right.
“We deserved to win. We were the better side,” Koevermans said at the post-match press conference.