In the Cambodia game, everything was coming through Brandon Fernandes in terms of the final third: Darren Caldeira 

Brandon Fernandes. Image Courtesy: AIFF Media
Brandon Fernandes. Image Courtesy: AIFF Media

Sunil Chhetri's brace ensured India got the full three points from their first 2023 AFC Asian Cup third-round qualifying match against Cambodia on Wednesday (June 8).

The Indian captain was ably aided by two Goans in the game - Liston Colaco, who won the penalty for the first goal, and Brandon Fernandes, who provided the assist for the second.

Fernandes' Indian Super League (ISL) season was marred by injuries, but India's head coach Igor Stimac kept faith in the FC Goa (FCG) attacking midfielder to select him in the squad for the friendlies earlier in March and ultimately for the all-important qualifiers at Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium.

Former Indian midfielder Darren Caldeira believes Fernandes was utilised effectively as he provided the creativity going into the final third. He also said Fernandes will be the one to watch out for in the next two games in an episode of the "Let's Football Live" Twitter space, hosted by ISL.

Caldeira opined:

"Brandon has been there on the Indian football circuit for a long time now. He has played a lot of football and as mentioned earlier, he’s always got his head up and is always waiting for someone to make a run. If you want to get the best out of Brandon, you need midfield runners or strikers making runs behind the defense. In the Cambodia game, everything was coming through Brandon in terms of the final third."

He added:

"So Afghanistan will want to mark him and make sure he doesn't get too much time on the ball. But like we've been talking about Brandon's quality, whenever he gets the ball, he's always looking for that final pass."

Fernandes, 27, has so far made 16 appearances for India. While he is yet to score for the Blue Tigers, the assist for Chhetri against Cambodia was his fifth overall in national colours.

Television pundit Paul Masefield echoed Caldeira's thoughts, saying:

"Just having Brandon back in the team gives them that little bit more impetus going forward because he's got great ability and great technique. He's got great vision as well. That could be pivotal moving forward, but having Brandon back in the qualifiers makes a big difference."

India face Afghanistan next on Saturday (June 11) evening at the Salt Lake Stadium. The Afghans were beaten 2-1 by Hong Kong in their opening match. A win for India against the Central Asian nation would virtually secure a top-two place in Group D, going into the final match against Hong Kong on June 14.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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