India registered a narrow 1-0 win over Thailand to hand Igor Stimac his first win as the head coach of the Blue Tigers, courtesy of an Anirudh Thapa strike in the 17th minute.
Stimac hinted in his pre-match press conference that he would like to give an opportunity to every member of the squad. And the Croatian made eight changes to the starting XI that went down 3-1 against Curacao.
Amrinder Singh started under the sticks with Rahul Bheke, Adil Khan, Sandesh Jhingan, Subashish Bose forming a four-man backline. Vinit Rai slotted in as a defensive screener with Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes having the license to move freely. Anirudh Thapa took up the role of an attacking midfielder while Farukh Choudhary and Balwant Singh started upfront.
Whereas, Thailand coach Sirisak Yodyadthai made four alterations to the line-up that crashed to a 1-0 defeat against Vietnam. Teerasil Dangda returned to action and was also handed the armband in what happened to be his 100th national team appearance.
India started dominating proceedings right from the first whistle. Instead of resorting to long balls, Stimac directed his boys to keep the ball on the ground and maintain possession.
Once Bheke moved to the right-back position, Thailand started utilising their left flank. In the 12th minute, Theerathon outfoxed the Bengaluru FC man and drove in a low cross inside the box. But a timely interception from Bose prevented Jaided from having a crack at goal. But India continued to have the upper hand as Thailand only managed sporadic attacks in the opening quarter of the game.
In the 17th minute, Thapa drew first blood after latching on to a cross from Adil Khan at the far post. Raynier's free-kick was half-heartedly cleared by Thailand which ultimately fell for Khan, who produced a curving low cross and the Chennaiyin FC man tapped in to give India the lead.
The War Elephants upped their ante after falling back and India were scampering to hold their fort. Bheke struggled as Teerasil wreaked havoc in the left flank. The Thai skipper found the net as well on one occasion but the flag went up disallowing the goal. In the 35th minute, Thapa prevented Thailand from getting the equaliser with a goal-line clearance after Jhingan lost out to Teerasil in the air.
Khan had a superb outing as the FC Pune City defender slid in a with a couple of important challenges to deny the Thai forwards.
A minute from half-time India could have doubled their lead after Farukh broke on the counter. The winger was one-on-one with the keeper and yet chose to pass it on to Balwant. But his pass was too weak and which allowed Adisorn the time to clear his lines.
The second-half resumed on a more even keel and India could have had their insurance goal only if Farukh had not been denied by the woodwork. The rebound fell for Balwant but the ATK striker seemed to have left his scoring boots at the hotel as he could only manage to find the side-netting.
Manvir Singh and Jackichand Singh were brought on after the 50th-minute mark replacing Balwant and Farukh.
Thailand once again started clawing their way back into the game and Dangda continued to cause a lot of problems for Indian defense. In the 62nd minute the number 10 latched onto an inch-perfect cross from Sarachat but his header was straight to Amrinder.
In the 69th minute, a defensive howler from Bunmathan almost gifted India their second after his weak backpass was redirected towards goal by Manvir but Tongsong saved his side with a last-ditch slide to avert the ball from trickling into the net. Yodyadthai's men could have found the leveller in the 89th minute but Adisorn's header from a set-piece went whiskers away from the post. Minutes later, Amrinder pulled off a brilliant save off Dangda's header to see India register their first win of the Stimac era.
India will return to action on July 7 in the Intercontinental Cup which will be hosted at the TranStadia Arena in Ahmedabad.