Substitute Balwant Singh scored twice in the second half to help India beat Macau 2-0 in their third match of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers at the Estádio Campo Desportivo in Macau on Tuesday.
Balwant, who replaced Eugeneson Lyngdoh at the start of the second half, provided a direct approach which India lacked in the first half despite dominating possession. Balwant's first goal came in the 57th minute, when he headed in Narayan Das' cross from the left. He came close in the 61st, but his header off Pritam Kotal's cross went just wide. Kotal himself came close moments later, when his spectacular effort from long range was brilliantly put away by keeper Ho Man Fai. Balwant got his second in the 82nd minute following a quick break and a defensive mix-up by Macau, which gifted him an open goal.
Constantine made three changes to the team that started in the friendly against Saint Kitts and Nevis on September 24, with Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu all regaining their places ahead of Balwant Singh, Jackichand Singh and Subrata Pal. India were dominant throughout the first half, but struggled to get clear efforts on the target, despite getting several balls in. Their best effort came in the 35th minute when Lyngdoh's long range effort came off the bar. Holicharan Narzary got to the rebound first, but his shot was straight at the keeper.
Macau, the lowest-ranked team (183) in India's group, rarely showed any intent going forward, defending deep inside their own half. They rarely pressed high and invited India to put crosses in from the wide. Both full-backs - Kotal and Narayan Das -- virtually played as wingers throughout the game as India set camp outside the Macau box. However, with neither Chhetri nor Udanta making direct runs inside the box, Jeje often found himself outnumbered to get to the end of crosses from wide. Narzary also had a lively game on the left wing, often dribbling past the right back to get in solid crosses, only to see them cleared due to the lack of blue shirts in the box.
India looked much more incisive following Balwant's introduction and the striker could easily have scored a hat-trick on the night, often finding himself unmarked and outjumping the Macau defence to win headers. India showed more purpose in front of goal after the break and Chhetri also hit the bar with a header from close range in the 52nd minute.
Balwant Singh has now scored three goals in as many games for India, and following his match-winning performance against Macau, he will be pushing for a spot ahead of Udanta and Jeje in India's forward-line.
India's next two qualifier games are at home against Macau and Myanmar followed by a trip to Kyrgyzstan, whom they beat 1-0 at home in June.