"The road is long, but belief is everything," read a gigantic banner displayed on Thursday evening at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore, as India faced Guam in a 2018 World Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification game. And that belief inspired India to their first win of the campaign, and the man behind it -- Robin Singh.
Not many had expected India to light up Bangalore amidst the heavy rain, but that is exactly what happened following 11 minutes with Robin scoring a goal of the highest calibre. It was a goal from which had goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sunil Chhetri and Robin involved.
The lanky Indian custodian's goalkick was taken by Chhetri, and the India skipper saw an opening inside the box to feed the ball to Robin. The Delhi Dynamos forward took his Bengaluru FC teammate's pass, cut inside the box, beat the defender and lashed a powerful shot.
Everything was going well for the hosts in the first half, as Eugeneson Lyngdoh took a couple of potshots at goal, and Sandesh Jhingan was also putting on a solid display at the back, until Sehnaj Singh changed it all. The midfielder, who started with Eugeneson at the heart of midfield, made a horrible challenge on a Guam player, with the referee showing a straight red card in the 42nd minute of play.
Stephen Constantine was visibly upset by the incident. However, he will be pleased with the performances of Romeo Fernandes, who became the 500th player to make his debut for the Indian senior football side.
Four points remained the summary of the second half -- Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Arnab Mondal, and the linesmen.
The inspirational India skipper launched two dangerous shots on goal with ten minutes left on the clock, and while the first one attracted a stunning save from Guam custodian Herrick, the second curling attempt from Chhetri went just wide of the post.
The visitors threw everything in the second half, with the ten men of India on to the backfoot, but Gurpreet, with all his European experience, made innumerable saves to prevent Guam from getting the equaliser.
Arnab Mondal made a stunning tackle inside the box as well to deny the visitors an equaliser early on in the second half, but the Atletico de Kolkata man almost scored an own goal moments later, only for Gurpreet to tip the ball over the bar.
Constantine's men can heave a sigh of relief today and thank their stars that Guam were disallowed two goals in either half by the vigilant linesmen, who were right on the money with both the calls.