The talismanic Sunil Chhetri returned to action with delightful strike but it was not enough as India went down 1-2 to Indian Super League side ATK Mohun Bagan in a practice match at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Wednesday.

Returning to action after a seven-month injury layoff, the 37-year-old India captain was in his element as he utilised a Glan Martins cross to give India a perfect start.

But the Indian backline — minus star centre forward Sandesh Jhingan and the dependable Pritam Kota who played for ATK Mohun Bagan — crumbled soon after with Liston Colaco and rising youngster Kiyan Nassiri scoring a goal each in the space of seven minutes.

It was a rude reality check for the Igor Stimac-coached side that starts as overwhelming favourites in the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers.

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The margin of defeat could have been worse as ATKMB missed a flurry of chances with Colaco, David Williams and Kauko squandering easy opportunities.

Jhingan also returned to action after sitting out ATKMB’s AFC Cup matches last month and played for 10 minutes in the second-half before pulling out after a suspected injury.

The details of the injury are unknown and it remains to be seen whether he will be available for ATKMB’s AFC Cup Group league opener against Gokulam Kerala here on May 18.

In a keenly-contested match, the 106th ranked India dominated up front before the Mariners seized the momentum with Colaco’s strike in the 30th minute.

Colaco then set up the winning goal for Nassiri in the 37th minute.

In the absence of an injured Rahim Ali, Chhetri started out with VP Suhair up front as Stimac also tried out the likes of Udanta Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Asish Rao, Akash Mishra, Jeakson Singh.

The Juan Ferrando-coached ATKMB also played their main team players in the first-half before giving chances to the juniors after the break.

It was India’s first of the two practice matches in build-up to next month’s Asian Cup qualifiers.

The second match is against ‘I-League All Stars’ which is scheduled to be played on May 17.

India next fly to Doha to play two more friendlies against Zambia (May 25) and Jordan (May 28) before they take on Cambodia (June 8) here at the Salt Lake Stadium.

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