MUMBAI: A young Indian team managed to extend their winning streak to nine matches, but only just. Mauritius put up a spirited display, one that belied their ranking of 160, but India held on to a 2-1 lead in the opening game of the tri-nation tournament that commenced at Andheri Sports Complex on Saturday.
The visitors had taken the lead through Jean Jocelyn in the 15th minute, but India fought back with Robin Singh’s goal in the 37th. Balwant Singh, who had come in for Robin at the break, gave India the lead in the 62nd minute.
With India using the event mainly as a warm-up to their Asian Cup qualifiers, they fielded a young side and eventually ended up handing three debuts in the game — Amrinder Singh, Nikhil Poojary and Manvir Singh. But the team looked at sea in the beginning, as the Mauritians showed off their skills and trickery to dominate the first half. The visitors, led by Ipswich Town’s Kevin Bru, were quick off the blocks and shocked the small but noisy crowd into silence when Jocelyn found the back of the net.
“I’m not happy, happy with the result, but am okay,” head coach Stephen Constantine said of India’s performance on the day.
Riding against the wave, India managed to get themselves into the match after a superb through ball from Rowlin Borges found Robin. The tall striker has struggled with injuries and form in recent times, but took this chance to score his first goal for India since November 2015. Manager Constantine made three changes at half-time, and the introduction of Balwant added zing to the Indian attack.
The 30-year-old, whose last appearance in an India jersey came in 2014, wore the responsibility of the main striker well and ultimately gave India the winning goal. Mauritius manager Francisco Filho contended that it was off-side but India held on to the slender lead. In the last few minutes Mauritius turned up the heat again, pressing India hard, but the defence, marshalled by newly-named captain Sandesh Jhinghan stood strong.
“I knew Mauritius were going to play like this,” added Constantine. “Perhaps today they could have played better. They passed the ball well, we gave them too much space, a bit too much respect in the first half. We were fortunate to get the equaliser when we did. We are not a team that can give teams a headstart. Another day we get punished. I told them at half-time that they need to buck up. They pulled up their socks in the second half, and maybe in the end we deserved to win.” India will play St Kitts & Nevis on August 24.