Sunil Chetri thanks the fans after defeating Macau in Bangalore
Bangalore: India qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in style, pumping in four goals for a crushing 4-1 win over Macau in a qualifying round match here on Wednesday, to make their fourth appearance in the continental event.
They made the cut with two matches still to go in the qualifying round. India had last qualified to the AFC Asian Cup in Doha in 2011.
India competed in the tournament for the first time in 1964, when they finished runners-up. Then they crashed out in the group stage in 1984 and 2011.
Rowllin Borges opened the scoring with a fine volley in the 28th minute, skipper Sunil Chetri restored the lead in the 60th minute, after the hosts conceded one. Macau conceded an own goal through defender Lam Seng in the 70th minute to dig their own grave at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
The fourth goal was scored by Jeje Lalpekhlua in added time, following an assist by Chetri. For Macau, Nicholas Tarrao scored in the 37th minute - their first goal of the qualifying campaign.
India topped Group A qualifying round with 12 points from four matches. They play Myanmar on November 24 and Kyrgyzstan on March 27 next year.
In the 2011 edition that was held in Doha, India lost all their group matches to Australia, South Korea and Bahrain.
Borges gave India the lead, but the Indian celebrations did not last long as in the 37th minute, Torrao managed to beat goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Chetri knocked in the second goal as India played in the 4-4-2 formation with Balwant Singh and Jeje up front. Holicharan Narzary had moved on the right wing, while Chetri played on the left.
For his goal, Borges fooled the visitors' goalkeeper after he received a pass from Jeje, who had the presence of mind to spot him.
Before Jeje could set it up, Narayan Das whipped in a low cross from the left. Torrao then stole the ball before it could reach Pritam Kotal and headed it in to draw level.
The goal was set up by Chan Chun, who found space on the right and sent in a beautiful cross. Chetri put India ahead 2-1 after he capitalised on a sloppy defensive play. Then Jeje, from near the halfway line, found Balwant. The substitute raced forward before squaring the ball into the box for Chetri.
India were lucky to have got the third strike through a self goal after Lam Seng's attempted clearance turned into disaster as the ball looped over the goalkeeper and went in.
With rain making it difficult for the players, India managed to get two early chances in the second and fourth minutes.
On the second occasion, before Chetri could capitalise on a ball of a defender's foot, Ho Fai smothered it. Earlier, they had beaten Myanmar 1-0, Kyrgyz Republic 1-0 and Macau 2-0. They are yet to concede a goal in the qualifiers.
Chetri was happy that India would be playing in the Asian Cup after missing out in 2015.
"I was there when we missed out in 2015 and that still hurts me. This is the tournament we play for. We get to rub our shoulders against best in Asia, which we don't get many times," he added.
Chetri lauded his teammates for their performance. "Amazing feeling... We have worked hard for this... Quite a group. Just four teams qualified, it shows our hard work. We will keep working hard."