Cambodia - Khoun Laboravy (37'), Chan Vathanaka (61')
India - Sunil Chhetri (35'), Jeje Lalpekhlua (49'), Sandesh Jhingan (52')
A jittery back four
It might have been down to lack of match fitness or just a plain gut feeling of the coach Stephen Constantine, but it was a surprise to see Fulganco Cardozo, who has usually played at centre-back, joining debutant Anas Edathodika, Arnab Mondal and Pritam Kotal in the back four for India.
There were some moments in the first half that highlighted the lack of coordination among the defenders, most evident in their failure to catch any of the speedy Cambodians such as Khoun Laboravy or Chan Vathanaka offside. While Cardozo was repeatedly guilty of allowing opponents to get in from the left side of defence, India were lucky to escape being punished more than just once for the lack of understanding in the first half.
In the 17th minute, an Arnab pass bounced off Anas and set up a near-perfect scoring position for an onrushing striker, while late in the first half, another striker was clipped by Cardozo and might have won a penalty from Vietnamese official Vo Minh Tri had it not been for a slightly dramatic fall. Cardozo would end the half with a cynical tackle borne more out of frustration than any realistic hope of winning the ball from one of the Cambodian attackers.
India ignore the aerial route
Considering the difference in height between the teams, it would have been an expected strategy from the Indians to keep the ball in the air, especially with Robin Singh starting in a three-prong attack alongside Sunil Chhetri and Daniel Lalhlimpuia.
It was hence a surprise to see India abandon the long ball quite early in the match, opting instead to try the pace of CK Vineeth along the right flank to try and create openings in the Cambodian defence. In the meantime, the home side took complete control of the midfield, led by the experienced defensive midfielder Tola Nub. Towards the end of the first half, India had conceded six corners and earned just one.
Off the only corner they had up to injury time, Eugeneson Lyngdoh's floated ball was missed by the Cambodian goalkeeper, allowing Chhetri to score one of his easiest international goals.
The match-winning changes
In the second half, Constantine brought Sandesh Jhingan on in the centre of defence in place of Arnab, and also replaced the ineffectual Daniel with Jeje Lalpekhlua. These two changes, alongside a first-half switch when Jackichand Singh came on for Vineeth, brought energy and purpose into the Indian team.
They pressed harder and were rewarded with two goals inside the first seven minutes of the restart. While Jeje scored one of his typical opportunistic goals inside the box, Jhingan took advantage of a good dummy by Robin off a corner to comfortably head India into a 3-1 lead.
Sweeper Sandhu to the rescue
Going by Wednesday's evidence, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu might have another difficult match ahead of him against Myanmar on March 28, especially considering the number of times Indian defenders were caught out of position by a Cambodian team that had pace but lacked the finishing skills.
Sandhu often had to play the role of a sweeper, not unusual in modern football, but one that places a heavy risk on the odd chance that it can lead to conceding soft goals. The best defensive combination might not be something India are sure about yet, and with Rowllin Borges expected to anchor the midfield, it will mean they must get it right if they want to start their AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign with valuable points and goals on the road.