The central defence played together for the first time together, and so did the midfield. Even as the stalwarts including Sunil Chhetri were rested, a new young-look India rose to the occasion to beat Thailand 1-0 in the third-place play-off of the King’s Cup in Buriram, Thailand. Anirudh Thapa tapped it in from close in the 17th minute to make the difference.
This is the second victory for the Blue Tigers against the War Elephants in last 6 months -- the first being in the AFC Asian Cup earlier this year. India now move to the Hero Intercontinental Cup to be held in Ahmedabad from July 7-18 where Syria, DPR Korea, and Tajikistan are the other participating teams.
Coach Igor Stimac made as many as eight changes to the starting line-up from India’s last outing against Curacao. Amrinder Singh replaced Gurpreet Singh Sandhu under the bar, with Adil Khan, Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai, Farukh Choudhary, Balwant Singh coming into the starting XI, along with Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes.
Thapa, who had also scored in India’s last meeting against Thailand in the Asian Cup silenced the hostile Thai support in the 17th minute. Following a free-kick, Adil latched onto a loose clearance at the top of the Thai box, and played it delectably behind the defence line for Thapa to put India into the lead.
In fact, Anirudh and Adil were all over the pitch, and the duo could have broken the deadlock in the sixth minute itself, but Adil's powerful header sailed over the crossbar.
In the 21st minute, Thai skipper Teerasil Dangda's powerful back-volley found the target, but he was ruled offside. The hosts switched the gear after the half-hour mark but the Indian defenders, led by Sandesh Jhingan, showed their resilience to keep them at bay. Adil also put in a stupendous performance denying the deadly duo of Terrasil and Tristan twice.
India had their best opportunity to double the lead at the stroke of the half-time. Adil played a long ball for Farukh who beat the off-side trap, and ran onto the rival box. But as he hesitated and passed it to onrushing Balwant Singh, rival defender Theerathaon recovered in time to deny Balwant.
Changing over, Thailand came out all guns blazing, but the Indians defended stubbornly.
Farukh came very close to scoring his first International goal for the Blue Tigers in the 50th minute but his effort from 20 yards bounced off the post. On the rebound, Balwant's right-footed shot hit the side-netting.
In the 60th minute, Terrasil made a terrific attempt but Sandesh's timely block left him frustrated.
Nine minutes later, Thai goalkeeper Siwarak misjudged Theerathon's backpass and in the process, could have ended conceding an own-goal but the post saved Thailand once again. In the process of making a desperate clearance, defender Suphan Thongsonghurt himself, and had to be stretchered off.
Stimac introduced Manvir Singh, Jackichand Singh and Abdul Sahal in the second half. Within seconds of coming in, Sahal sprinted down the heart of the pitch before passing the ball to Thapa, but the latter waited for that split extra second to help the rival defence close down.
Chamrasee, who came off the bench, could have broken Indian hearts in the 88th minute. But he mistimed the header off a curling free-kick; and in added time, Amrinder saved a blinder a save to deny skipper Terrasil once again.