Anwar Ali’s perseverance and positivity in the face of almost impossible obstacles paid out handsomely on Tuesday, despite being told to hang up his boots due to a physical problem.
India wrapped up their historic AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign in style, brushing away a tough Hong Kong team 4-0 at the Salt Lake Stadium, with goals from Anwar, Sunil Chhetri (who does it nearly every other day), Manvir Singh, and Ishan Pandita.
On a stormy night, Igor Stimac’s team brought their A-game and began with a blitz, with Anwar (2nd) and Chhetri (45′) giving India a 2-0 lead.
Manvir (85th) and Pandita (90 3rd) came off the bench to complete the thrashing and lift India (nine points) to the top of Group D with three straight victories, ahead of Hong Kong (six).
The Blue Tigers took an early 1-0 lead, with Anwar, a 21-year-old center-back, scoring his first international goal four years after his career was almost cut short due to illness.
With a right-footed shot into the top corner, the 2017 Under-17 World Cup hero, whose career had been put on hiatus after being diagnosed with a rare heart ailment (Hypertrophic Myocardiopathy), scored from a short Ashique Kuruniyan corner.
Playing with Sandesh Jhingan, the versatile defender made his presence known in the backline and made some smooth movements up forward.
Just before halftime, the talismanic Chhetri extended the advantage with a 30-yard freekick, his fourth goal of the tournament.
Jeakson Singh floated in a magnificent freekick, which the captain handled superbly with a clever first touch before calmly putting it home for his 84th international goal, tying him with Hungarian legend Ferenc Puska for the most international goals.
He also made the top-five list of international goal scorers.
Among active players, the Indian legend is just two goals behind Argentine sensation Lionel Messi, followed by Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo (117).
Brandon Fernandes started the move from the right and played a rapid 1-2 with Roshan Singh before Manvir struck the goal late in the second half.
In the song, India counter-attacked, and Pandita converted a cross from the right by Manvir.
Both teams secured their Asian Cup Finals berths more than eight hours before their match, thanks to Palestine’s 4-0 victory against the Philippines, who were eliminated after finishing as the worst runners-up from the six groups.
With little pressure on them, Stimac’s team made two daring changes in the starting XI, replacing Liston Colaco and Manvir with Sahal Abdul Samad and Udanta Singh.