Sunil Chhetri proved to be Bangladesh's nemesis yet again as the India skipper's late brace earned the Blue Tigers a 2-0 win against the men in red and green in their World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying fixture at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha last night.
The 36-year-old turned the fate of the game decisively in favour of India -- a clinical header on 78 minutes and a clever chip in stoppage time -- to deny Janie Day's charges a third point in this qualifying fixture, which had looked like there for the taking as the game had progressed.
With the clock ticking down and Bangladesh growing in confidence, and even throwing bodies forward in search of a goal, the Bengaluru FC striker ran into space at the far post, losing the Bangladesh defenders on a perfectly weighted cross from Ashique Kurunian and beat goalkeeper Anisur Rahman Zico with a header to the far corner of the net.
That goal was enough to break the morale of Day's charges, who had displayed excellent defensive organisation and discipline to keep Igor Stimac's men at bay despite enjoying a quarter of possession.
Bangladesh, who had earned plaudits from all and sundry for their 1-1 draw against the same opposition in the reverse fixture in Kolkata two years ago, continued to search for an equaliser. India, now playing with the luxury of the lead, with Chhetri chipping the ball over the Riyadul Hasan Rafi into the top corner of the net after collecting a cross from Suresh Singh.
The India skipper was all but neutralised in that famous match, but yesterday he showed his class again, scoring his fourth and fifth goals against Bangladesh in four most recent meetings, taking his overall international tally to 75 goals.
The defeat all but ends Bangladesh's chances of direct qualification for the third round of Asian Cup Qualifiers as the men in red and green – bottom of Group E with only two points -- would look to have another shot at qualification through playoffs, to take place in September and October this year. For now they will have seven days to build up for the last match of the second round, against Oman on June 15.
Bangladesh were coming from a fighting 1-1 draw against Afghanistan while India in their previous match went down 1-0 against Qatar despite playing majority of the time with 10 men.
Bangladesh coach Day went in with just one change, Manik Molla replacing the injured Sohel Rana in midfield.
With Rafi clearing Jinglesana Singh's header from the goalline in the first half and then India forwards missing a couple of free headers on set-pieces later, it looked like Bangladesh were on their way to extending their sequence of draws against their neighbours, but then Chhetri conjured two clinical finishes to make the difference.