Tri-Nation Series: India 2-1 Mauritius: Balwant Singh seals dream return with winner
Goals from Robin Singh and Balwant Singh meant the Blue Tigers came back from a goal down to win the opener of the tri-series in Mumbai...

India came back from a goal down to beat Mauritius 2-1 in the opening game of the AIFF Tri-Nation series at the Mumbai Football Arena on Monday.

Mervyn Jocelyn (15') put the visitors ahead but Robin Singh (37') equalised before the break. Halftime substitute Balwant Singh (62') made sure that his first goal in India colours gave the hosts maximum points.

For a team which has remained unbeaten in the calendar year, head coach Stephen Constantine did not tinker too much with his formation. The unavailability of the Bengaluru FC players meant veteran Subrata Paul made a rare start after having been displaced by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu two years ago.

Centre-back Sandesh Jhingan took on the armband and featured in a similar back line of Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika and Narayan Das, all of whom were shielded by Rowllin Borges, who acted as the lone holding midfielder. Eugeneson Lyngdoh was flanked by Jackichand Singh and Halicharan Narzary in the creative third. Jeje Lalpekhlua and Robin Singh started up front.

India Mauritius 2017

Francisco Filho started with a tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Kevin Jean-Louis featured between the sticks as Marco Dorza, Emmanuel Vincent Jean, Francis Rasolofonirina and Pascal Balisson constituted the back four. Kylian Yrnard and Mervyn Jocelyn marshalled the centre of the park.

Frederic Sarah, skipper Kevin Bru and star player Kevin Perticots had the burly Joseph Justin for company as the lone striker up top.

Most Indian players who came off a long off-season break had a rusty start to the game. The visitors tested Paul in the first ten minutes as the full-backs went missing. 

It was no surprise that  Club M  led on the quarter of an hour mark. Kevin Perticots made light work of Pritam Kotal on the left channel as his cross was cleared by Narayan Das only to fall into the lap of midfielder Mervyn Jocelyn. 

The 25-year-old scored his first senior goal for Mauritius as his shot deflected off Anas Edathodika, sending Paul the wrong way. India were taken by surprise with the goal but Mauritius'  lead was well deserved.

India did have a chance five minutes later but Halicharan Narzary made a meal out of Jeje's pass, heading the ball down after Lyngdoh's lob inside the box. 

The equaliser did arrive in the form of Robin Singh's delectable left footer past a hapless Jean-Louis. Rowllin Borges found an opening to trigger Robin, who on the run beat Marco Dorza for pace. The ATK forward cut in and found the back of the net on the hosts' only shot on goal in the first half.

India Mauritius 4

India Mauritius 2

Constantine made three changes for the restart. Goalscorer Robin Singh was taken off for Balwant Singh, who made his first bow for the national side since 2013. Amrinder Singh and Nikhil Poojary made their debuts as direct replacements for Subrata Paul and Jackichand Singh.

Ten minutes in, Jeje, Balwant and Narzary combined to create a half chance but the Assam-born Narzary eventually failed to convert, missing the target by a few metres.

Hoshiarpur-born Balwant put India ahead a little after the hour mark. Lyngdoh passed the ball to Jeje who patiently found his former Mohun Bagan teammate with a soft touch. Balwant dribbled past his marker and left the goalkeeper bedazzled as he brought up his first goal for India.

There were a host of changes by Les Dodos as Jesson Rungassamy, Murphy Rose and Louis Chiffone were brought into the mix. Mohammed Rafique too got his chance as Eugeneson Lyngdoh was retracted from the field.

Balwant Singh India Mauritius 2017

Rafique made an impression straight away as he won the ball in midfield and fed it to Narzary whose terrible first touch saw a weak shot go wide. The winger was taken off shortly with Constantine left unimpressed with his efforts.

Striker Manvir Singh was given a run out in the dying phases of regulation time. The Punjab-born could have scored on his debut within a minute but his shot from range flew into orbit.

India's midfield conundrum continued but managed to scrape off with a win nonetheless, their ninth on the trot. The  Blue Tigers next face Caribbean side St. Kitts & Nevis at the same venue on Thursday.
 

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