Goals from Anwar Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita saw India beat a strong Hong Kong side 4-0 and finish top of the table in the third round of AFC Cup qualifiers on Wednesday. Igor Stimac's side brought out their A-game on a stormy night in Kolkata and started off with a blitz as Ali (2') and Chhetri (45') gave India a 2-0 lead. Manvir (85') and Pandita (90' +3') came off the bench to complete the rout and help India (nine points) top group D with three wins on the trot, ahead of Hong Kong (six points).
India raced to a 1-0 lead with the 21-year-old centreback Ali scoring his maiden international goal four years after his career nearly ended on health grounds.
The 2017 Under-17 World Cup star, whose career had been put on hold after being diagnosed with a rare heart disease (Hypertrophic Myocardiopathy), scored from a short Ashique Kuruniyan corner with his left-footed strike into the top corner.
The talismanic Chhetri doubled the lead just before the break from a 30-yard freekick to bring up his fourth goal of the tournament. Jeakson Singh floated in a brilliant freekick as the skipper controlled it brilliantly with a deft first touch before calmly slotting it home to notch his 84th international strike. It sees him go level with Hungarian great Ferenc Puska in the chart for the all-time leading men's international scorers.
He also entered the top-five men's international goal-scorers' list.
The Indian icon is just two goals behind Argentine superstar Lionel Messi among active players list led by Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo (117).
Late into the second-half it was Brandon Fernandes who initiated a move from the right and played a quick 1-2 with Roshan Singh before Manvir found the target. On song, India attacked on the counter and a cross from the right from Manvir was converted by Pandita.
More than eight hours before their face-off, both the teams confirmed the Asian Cup Finals berth, courtesy Palestine's 4-0 win over Philippines who were eliminated after finishing as the worst runners-up from the six groups.
Playing without any pressure, Stimac had made two changes by bringing in Sahal Abdul Samad and Udanta Singh in the starting XI in place of Liston Colaco and Manvir.