Ahmedabad: A second-half blitz steered Tajikistan to a come-from-behind 4-2 win over hosts India in their opening Intercontinental Cup match on Sunday.
India looked to be cruising to victory after taking a 2-0 lead in the first half but Tajikistan turned on the power in the second 45 minutes as they hit four goals to register a morale-boosting win ahead of the Asian Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
India head coach Igor Stimac handed debuts to Narender Gehlot and Mandar Desai at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad while the experienced Sandesh Jhingan started on the bench.
India rode on the experience of Sunil Chhetri, who proved vital from the start for the Blue Tigers.
After Lallianzuala Chhangte was felled in the box in the third minute, Chhetri coolly deposited the ball behind Rustam Yatimov to hand his team an early advantage from the penalty spot.
After a passage of play in which India dominated, Chhetri doubled their advantage four minutes before the break.
Tajikistan were far from beaten as they started the second half on an aggressive note and Komron Tursunov reduced the deficit in the 57th minute.
Chhetri could have restored India's two-goal advantage just seconds later but missed the target and it was to prove costly as Sheriddin Boboev drew Tajikistan level almost immediately after.
Stimac’s changes had little to no effect on the goal scoring of Tajikistan as Muhammadjon Rahimov found space between Singh’s legs in the 72nd minute to turn the match on its head as the defence once again was caught napping to compound the coach’s worries.
Within three minutes, substitute Shahrom turned on the heat again by converting a lob by Panshanbe Ehsoni into goal to double the lead and push the hosts out of the contest.
The loss was India’s first at home in two years while Tajikistan tasted their first win under head coach Usmon Toshev.
They will face Syria on Tuesday while India will get time to regroup after the defeat as they play Syria next on Saturday.
Photos: All India Football Federation