Sunil Chhetri came back to action with a lovely strike, but it wasn't enough as India lost 1-2 to ATK Mohun Bagan of the Indian Super League in a practice match at the Salt Lake Stadium. The 37-year-old India skipper was in his groove as he used a Glan Martins cross to give India a perfect start.
However, the Indian defense broke shortly after, with Liston Colaco and emerging prodigy Kiyan Nassiri scoring goals in the space of seven minutes, despite the absence of star center striker Sandesh Jhingan and the dependable Pritam Kota, who played for ATK Mohun Bagan. It was a harsh reality check for the Igor Stimac-coached team, who began the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers as overwhelming favorites.
ATKMB squandered a flurry of chances, with Colaco, David Williams, and Kauko all missing simple chances. Jhingan also returned to action after missing ATKMB's AFC Cup matches earlier this month, playing for 10 minutes in the second half before leaving with an injury.
The nature of the injury is uncertain, and it is unclear whether he will be available for ATKMB's AFC Cup Group league opening on May 18 against Gokulam Kerala. In a closely contested encounter, India, ranked 106th, controlled upfront before Colaco's goal in the 30th minute gave the Mariners the upper hand. Colaco then put up Nassiri for the game-winning goal in the 37th minute.
Without Rahim Ali, Chhetri started with VP Suhair upfront, while Stimac tested out Udanta Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Ashish Rao, Akash Mishra, and Jeakson Singh. ATKMB, managed by Juan Ferrando, used their main team players in the first half before giving the kids an opportunity after the interval.
It was the first of two practice matches for India ahead of the Asian Cup qualifiers next month. The second match is planned for May 17 against the 'I-League All-Stars.' India will next head to Doha for two more friendlies against Zambia (May 25) and Jordan (May 28) before facing Cambodia (June 8) at Salt Lake Stadium.