Sunil Chhetri's brace ensured India got maximum points out of their first 2023 AFC Asian Cup third-round qualifying match against Cambodia. However, the India captain was ably aided by two Goans - Liston Colaco, who won the penalty for the first goal, and Brandon Fernandes who provided the assists for the second.
Brandon Fernandes' Indian Super League season was marred by injuries but Head Coach Igor Stimac kept faith in the FC Goa man to select him in the squad for the friendlies earlier in March and ultimately for the all-important qualifiers in Kolkata.
Former player Darren Caldeira believes Brandon Fernandes was utilised in the best manner as he provided all creativity going into the final third for India. Caldeira also said Brandon will be the one to watch out for in the next two games in an episode of 'Lets Football Live' Twitter space, hosted by Indian Super League.
"Brandon's been there on the Indian football circuit for a long time now. He's played a lot of football and like maybe mentioned earlier, he's always got his head up and he's always waiting for someone to make a run. So, if you want to get the best out of Brandon is you need midfield runners or you need your strikers making runs in behind the defense. In the Cambodia game pretty much, everything was coming through Brandon in terms of the final third," Caldeira said.
"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 that ball, he's always looking for that final pass," Caldeira added.
27-year-old Brandon has so far 16 caps 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 mirrored Caldeira's thoughts: "Just having Brandon back in the team gives them that a little bit more impetus to go forwards because he's got great ability. Great technique. He's got great vision as well. So, that could be pivotal moving forwards, but having Brandon back in the qualifiers makes a big difference."
India face Afghanistan next on Saturday. 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.