Sunil Chhetri played a starring role, with a goal and two assists, as India came back after conceding an early goal to beat Puerto Rico 4-1 in an international friendly at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai on Saturday. Having beaten Laos in their two-legged playoff for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualification and then beaten Bhutan 3-0 in an unofficial friendly, India have now won four matches in a row, scoring 14 goals and conceding just two.
Both teams took to the field with identical formations of 4-3-3, with Indian coach Stephen Constantine opting to start with his strongest possible line-up, with Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh and Pronoy Halder hoping to provide adequate supply to Bikash Jairu, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Chhetri in the forward line. Puerto Rico, who had only reached Mumbai on Friday, had just 15 players available for selection.
The visitors dominated possession in the early exchanges, and were rewarded in the seventh minute when Jackichand mistimed a challenge inside the Indian penalty box, bringing down left-back Elliot Velez in the process. The penalty kick was duly converted by striker Emmanuel Sanchez to give Puerto Rico a 1-0 lead.
India won their first corner in the 10th minute. Chhetri took a short corner with Eugeneson and was hoping for a quick give-and-go with Jackichand, but the latter took too much time to release the ball for Chhetri. Two minutes later, Chhetri nearly found himself at the end of a pinpoint long ball from the centre of the pitch from Eugeneson, but the ball skidded into goalkeeper Johnny Santana's gloves.
India got their opening with a free-kick in the 17th minute following a clumsy challenge on Jairu just outside the penalty box. Chhetri's kick beat the goalkeeper to his right but took a rebound off the post, and left-back Narayan Das tapped in his first international goal to make it 1-1.
Six minutes later, Chhetri was impeded on his way towards goal by central defender Emmanuel D'Andrea, which earned Puerto Rico their first yellow card of the match. This time Chhetri placed his free kick perfectly into the unguarded far post, to make it 2-1 to India.
The following 10 minutes saw goalmouth action at both ends, with Gurpreet pulling off a comfortable save and then handling two corners in quick succession with authority; even as Jackichand and then Jeje came close to increasing India's lead, but shot over the target on both occasions.
Jeje eventually got his reward when yet another long ball towards the Puerto Rico goal was cushioned by Chhetri, and Jeje headed in to give India a two-goal cushion, which they took into the second half.
Constantine brought in Holicharan Narzary and Rowlin Borges in the second half to replace Jairu and Halder, while goalkeeper Christofer Echevarria stepped in for his Puerto Rico debut at the change of ends. But Echevarria's first action was collecting the ball from inside the net in the 57th minute as Jackichand took advantage of the Puerto Rico defence not clearing the lines after Jeje had created an opening for Eugeneson, who found an unmarked Jackichand with a header.
Puerto Rico had their best chance to score in the 70th minute, when a Sanchez right-footer beat the outstretched Gurpreet to the Indian goalkeeper's left. From the resultant corner, India set up a counterattack from which substitute Sumeet Passi nearly scored. A couple of minutes later Eugeneson took the visiting defence by surprise with a snapshot from the edge of the box, which went out for a corner. The corner led to a shot from distance from Borges that almost brought India their fifth.
In the last few minutes, Constantine took advantage of this being a friendly to give some game time to youngsters such as Seityasen Singh, Germanpreet Singh and Daniel Lalhimpuia, but there were no further goals for either side.
The match, the first between India and Puerto Rico, was also the first Indian international in Mumbai in 61 years. The previous match -- a 3-0 defeat at the hands of erstwhile Soviet Union, a team that had Lev Yashin in its ranks -- was played at the Brabourne Stadium in February 1955.