India stun Thailand to make early statement of intent at Asian Cup

Jeje Lalpekhlua celebrates after scoring during India's 4-1 win over Thailand. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2019

India stun Thailand to make early statement of intent at Asian Cup

  • Blue Tigers impress during their Group A opener in Abu Dhabi.
  • Next up for India is a clash against the hosts UAE on Thursday.

ABU DHABI: India stunned Thailand 4-1 at the Asian Cup football tournament on Sunday, veteran striker Sunil Chhetri scoring twice in their Group A opener.
Watched by the 12 Thai schoolboys rescued from a flooded jungle cave last year after being trapped for more than two weeks, the War Elephants had little answer to India's brimming energy in Abu Dhabi.
Chhetri opened the scoring when he smashed home from the penalty spot after 27 minutes.
The Blue Tigers were in front for just seven minutes, Thai captain Teerasil Dangda restoring parity by bravely heading home a Theerathon Bunmathan free kick.
But Chhetri drilled his second of the game moments into the second half following a lung-bursting run down the right from Udanta Singh.
Things got worse for Thailand when Anirudh Thapa chipped in a third in the 68th minute before substitute Lalpekhlua Jeje completed the rout to leave India as unlikely group leaders.
Hosts United Arab Emirates were held 1-1 by Bahrain in Saturday's curtain-raiser.
India's players celebrated by performing Iceland's "Viking Thunderclap" in front of their delirious fans.
"Did I expect to win 4-1? No, but we're not getting carried away," insisted India coach Stephen Constantine.
"It's just another game. There will be no issue with keeping the boys' feet on the ground, don't worry about that."
The Englishman, formerly in charge of Malawi, Sudan and Rwanda, has clashed with senior players and sparked dismay in India by stripping Chhetri of the captaincy.
"There's no controversy about rotating captains!" he snapped when quizzed by Indian media.
"I've done it for four years. Chhetri gives everything every game he plays whether he's captain or not."
India finished runners-up on their Asian Cup debut in 1964 when it was a four-team competition won by Israel.
But they had lost six of their last seven games at the regional tournament, conceding 20 goals, before qualifying for the fourth time and first since 2011.
"If I say it's just another result would that be a cliche?" said Constantine.
"We've won one game, got three points. We have two more games, that's it."
Thailand, appearing for the since co-hosting the tournament in 2007, have now won just one of 21 games at the Asian Cup.
Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac made no excuses for this side's humiliating defeat.
"India totally deserved to win," said the Serb. "We didn't underestimate them. They were aggressive and fought for everything. But it's just one game. We have two more left so we have to learn from our mistakes and go again."


Roger Federer outclasses Novak Djokovic to reach ATP Finals semis

Updated 8 min 37 sec ago

Roger Federer outclasses Novak Djokovic to reach ATP Finals semis

  • Defeat spells the end of Djokovic’s bid to overtake Rafael Nadal as No. 1
  • Federer, making his 17th appearance at the ATP Finals, reached his 16th semifinal

LONDOM: Roger Federer produced a serving masterclass as he avenged his Wimbledon defeat by Novak Djokovic and qualified for the last four of the ATP Finals on Thursday with a 6-4, 6-3 victory.
The Swiss, playing near-flawless tennis, broke once in the first set and twice in the second to beat his rival for the first time since 2015.
Roared on by a raucous packed house at London’s O2 Arena, the six-time champion dropped just seven points on his serve in the first set.
Defeat spells the end of Djokovic’s bid to overtake Rafael Nadal and finish as year-end number one.
The third-seeded Federer, making his 17th appearance at the ATP Finals, reached his 16th semifinal.
Djokovic needed to win the title to have a chance at knocking Nadal off the top spot, but now the Spaniard is guaranteed to finish the year as the top-ranked player for the fifth time, tying him with Federer, Djokovic and American Jimmy Connors.
“Great atmosphere, great opponent,” said Federer. “It was definitely incredibly special. I enjoyed it from the beginning.
“I played incredible and I knew I had to because that’s what Novak does. It was definitely magical. You guys made it super special, I can’t thank you enough.”
Speaking about what was different from Wimbledon, he said: “I won match point I guess. It was so close at Wimbledon. It was a privilege to play that match, so many ups and downs. I couldn’t be more happy right now.”
Federer finishes second in Group Bjorn Borg, behind Dominic Thiem, who beat both Federer and Djokovic earlier this week. The Swiss will face the Group Andre Agassi winner on Saturday.
Djokovic looked nervy at the start of the winner-takes-all contest, double-faulting twice in the third game, in which he was broken to love.
As cries of “Let’s go Roger, let’s go” rang around the cavernous stadium, Federer was dead-eyed on his serve, hitting eight aces, including a second-serve ace, in the first set.
Federer’s service level dipped in the second set and Djokovic earned his first break point of the match in the fourth game, which the Swiss saved.
He broke Djokovic again in the fifth game to take an iron grip on the match and repeated the trick to take the second set 6-3.
It was the 49th time Federer and Djokovic had met.
Djokovic, who now holds a 26-23 advantage, had won their past five meetings, including their epic five-set battle in the final at Wimbledon in July, during which he saved two championship points.
In Thursday’s early match in Group Bjorn Borg, which was a dead rubber, eighth seed Matteo Berrettini beat Thiem 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.
In doing so, the 23-year-old became the first Italian to win a match at the season-ending championships.
Berrettini arrived in London at a career-high number eight in the ATP rankings after starting the season outside of the top 50.
Fifth seed Thiem did not hit the heights he reached during his three-set win against Djokovic, notching just 12 winners compared with 50 against the Serbian.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has already qualified for the semifinals from Group Andre Agassi, leaving Nadal, defending champion Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev to scrap it out for the other spot on Friday.