Substitute striker Balwant Singh’s opportunistic second half double strike helped India beat Macau 2-0 in a group league encounter of the Asian Cup qualifying round, taking their unbeaten run in international matches to 11.
The former Mohun Bagan goal poacher found the target in the 57th and 82nd minutes respectively as the ‘Blue Tigers’ won their third successive match in the qualifying tournament, maintaining their pole position in the group with nine points.
With nine points from three games, India are now firmly in contention to seal a berth for the 2019 edition of the tournament.
Ranked 96th in the FIFA list, India were overwhelming favourites against minnows Macau — currently ranked 183rd.
However, the home team managed to defend their citadel in the first half, which that ended goalless. It was Balwant, who replaced Eugenesen Lyngdoh post change of ends, broke the deadlock.
In the 57th minute, it was side-back Narayan Das, who had overlapped down wide right and sent a floater inside the box.
Balwant timed his jump to perfection as he angled his header with a marker on tow.
The second goal in the 82nd minute was more to do with a defensive lapse as Balwant showed his predatory skills, snatching a ball from the opposition defender just outside the corner of the 18-yard box.
From the corner of his eye, he saw that custodian Ho Man Fai was out of charge and his neat placement ensured an unassailable lead for the visiting team.
It wasn’t one of the best matches for India’s lead strike duo of Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpheklhua as they were man marked by the home team defenders.
In the first half, the only notable scoring chance was in the 37th minute — a rasping left-footer from Lyngdoh, which hit the horizontal.
The other chance was a neat centre from Narayan in the 40th minute that Jeje couldn’t head home.
The Indian left-back was a livewire as most of the moves were initiated from the particular flank.