India wins as expected, but second place eludes

BANGALORE, MAY 20. India went into its final group 8 pre-World Cup qualifier against Brunei needing a 6-0 verdict to finish second. At the end of 90 minutes, the home team trooped off the Sree Kanteerava stadium turf with a 5-0 margin, not enough to edge past Yemen. But the satisfaction of gaining a big win was very much in place.

The crowd was thin in comparison to the earlier outings. And the heavy downpour, in the last quarter of the match, only drove the faithfuls for cover, even as substitute Abdul Hakkim drove home the fifth goal in quickly fading light and heavy underfoot conditions.

UAE, by virtue of its 3-2 win over Yemen, inched to the top with 12 points to make the second round from this group while Yemen, with 11 points like India, finished ahead of the latter by virtue of more goals scored (Yemen scored 14 to India's 11). Brunei lost all its matches and conceded 28 goals.

India played positively as in the opening tie against UAE which it won 1-0. That Brunei was no match in any department only added to the advantage, despite the fact that India rested first choice 'keeper Virender Singh and tried out local lad N. Balaji. Stopper Roberto Fernandes was given a look-in, as Mahesh Gawli was rested.

The Brunei players could only watch in awe as I.M. Vijayan played alongside captain Baichung Bhutia and the duo joined forces with central midfielder Jo Paul Ancheri. The first goal that virtually opened the floodgates was fortuitous. In the 12 minute of play, a Khalid Jamil long-through saw linesman waving for off-side. The uplifted flag did stop the Brunei defence in its tracks but not Jules Alberto who charged down the flank, controlled the ball, dribbled down to the middle and placed the ball into an untenanted goal after dribbling past an advancing goalkeeper Mohd. Wardun Yussof.

The Brunei players protested but failed to change Uzbek referee's Nail Lutfullin's decision.

Thereafter, it was India all the way as the host attacked in waves with Vijayan catching the eye. The veteran, who was pulled out in the 80th minute with the ground conditions getting too soggy, chased every ball and time and again harried the rival defence into mistakes.

Peach of a goal

The goal that the mercurial striker came up with in the 23rd minute was a brilliant effort. Vijayan positioned himself ideally to angle his header into the far corner off a Jo Paul Ancheri chip into the goalmouth after a fine run down the right. A minute earlier, Bhutia had the mortification of seeing his left-footer richocheting off rival goalkeeper Wardun's outstretched legs.

With Ancheri and Vijayan dazzling, Bhutia too came into his own with a few pleasing runs. However, the Indian captain, after a couple of near misses, managed to get into the scorers' list in the 35th minute. A darting Jo Paul Ancheri was brought down inside the box by a hard tackling Abang Norsillmy Taha and the referee quickly pointed to the `spot'. Bhutia deftly converted the award (3-0).

Going into the break with a handy margin, which could well have been 4-0 but for Khalid Jamil's fumble off a sitter, one presumed India would achieve its objective. However, by easing on the pedal, India helped Brunei make a few forays during which it earned its first and only corner-kick in the 56th minute. Jo Paul, meanwhile, stole a pass from the midfield and after cutting past a host of defenders unleashed his now-patented long ranger, which however deflected off the goalkeeper for an abortive corner.

With clouds gathering, Jo Paul made no mistake with a Jules Alberto flag kick in the 59th minute, his header going into the net off defender Rosmini Kahar's legs.

With the crowd urging for more, more pressure was applied. But the sharp blinding showers which even drove the journalists for cover, added to the woes and made ball possession much more difficult.

But the fifth goal did arrive in the 76th minute when Jo Paul curled his shot which rebounded off the cross-piece. Abdul Hakkim, lurking in the goalmouth, promptly tapped into the net with goalkeeper Wardun diving the wrong way.

For India, Jo Paul was booked for retaliating to a foul while Brunei had three yellow card bookings in Muhammed Sadiy Abdullah, Mohd. Ali Momin and Haji Hassan Damit.

While the Indians unwind for a few days before getting ready for the Merdeka soccer camp, Brunei will return with bitter-sweet memories, worst of all being the referee's decision on the opening goal.

The teams:

India: Balaji N; Surkumar Singh, Deepak Kumar Mondal, Roberto Fernandes, Dhanesh K.V.; Jules Alberto (Abdul Hakkim), Khalid Jamil, Jo Paul Ancheri, Renedy Singh (S. Venkatesh); Baichung Bhutia and I.M. Vijayan (Alvito D'Cunha).

Brunei: Mohd. Wardun Yussof; Haji Hassan, Shahril Ismail (Zulkefi Duraman), Adee Suhardee Muhidin, Mohd. Helme Panjang; Muhammad Sadiy Abdullah, Abang Norsillmy Taha, Mohd. Ali Momin, Mohd. Rosanan Samak (Zurkumi Dawat); Rosmini Kahar (Tommy Kambang) and Jasriman Johari.