Thokchom’s dazzling left-footer fetches a point for India

India came back from behind to draw 1-1 against Vietnam in their opening Group D match of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

Long Vu had put Vietnam in the lead towards the end of the first half, but India left-back Malemngamba Thokchom equalised in the 69th minute, to salvage a point for India.

India’s next two opponents in the group are Uzbekistan and Japan. The other match in the group between Japan and Uzbekistan ended in a 1-1 draw.

It was a cautious, yet controlling start by the Blue Colts, who enjoyed possession of the ball for large parts of the play in the Vietnam half.

Early free-kicks on either flank for India meant that Vanlalpeka Guite and Lalpekhlua Ralte could put in dangerous balls into the Vietnam box, but the chances were headed away.

The result of a corner by Danny Meitei was the same, when his aerial ball, aimed at Ricky Meetei, landed on a Vietnamese head.

Akash Tirkey had a great chance when he dribbled past two defenders and blasted it goalwards, but the ball went a foot wide.

A couple of minutes past the half hour mark, Vietnam had their first real chance of the game, when Cong Phuong stood over a free kick from close range, but he sent it wide.

However, it was Vietnam, who took the lead against the run of play in the dying minutes of the first half, when they cleared a corner by Danny, and Long Vu darted off past the half-line, to initiate a counter-attack. He swiftly ran into the Indian box and slotted it into the net.

Long Vu could have doubled the lead, but his header in added time of the first half crashed against the upright before it was cleared.

India head coach Bibiano Fernandes decided to throw Thanglalsoun Gangte into the fray, as the striker replaced midfielder Akash Tirkey.

The Blue Colts began to find their rhythm as the first 10 minutes of the second half came to an end. Danny tried his luck with a back volley, but it was straight at the keeper.

Malemngamba Thokchom had a brilliant chance after an alert Danny left a Guite pass. Thokchom darted through from the left, and pulled the trigger, but it only bulged the side netting.

A little over the hour mark, Gangte had the perfect chance when he was played through by Guite, but Vietnam keeper Bao Ngoc had his line covered. The India substitute’s subsequent effort from the rebound went wide.

Left-back Thokchom drew India level with 21 minutes left on the clock, when his stunning left-footed effort from long range nestled into the top corner in a spectacular fashion, giving Ngoc no chance.

The tempo of the game ebbed again after Thokchom’s goal, as Vietnam began to enjoy a goodly possession of the ball. It took some desperate defending by Ricky and Surajkumar Singh to keep the opponents out.

The tide turned again in the last five minutes when India looked to have the greater initiative. A little interplay between Guite and Thokchom on the left, and the former had a free line to cross it into the box. However, the cross went wide.

India had a great opportunity to take the lead deep into added time, when a cross by captain Korou Singh was attacked by Gangte, but the shot was saved. Substitute Omang Dodum got on the rebound, but volleyed it wide.

India U-17 XI: Sahil; Ricky Meetei, Pramveer, Surajkumar Singh, Malemngamba Thokchom; Gurnaj Singh Grewal, Vanlalpeka Guite, Korou Singh; Akash Tirkey (Thanglalsoun Gangte 46′), Danny Meitei (Omang Dodum 85′), Lalpekhlua Ralte (Gogocha Chungkham 65′).

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