The much-anticipated match lived up to its billing with an action-packed entertainer that saw the UAE climb to the top of Group A with four points. Before the match some 43,000 Emirati and Indian fans sang national anthems ‘Ishy Bilady’ and ‘Jana Gana Mana’ with equal fervor.
Aiming for qualification from the group stages, the Indian National Team ended up on the losing side going down 0-2 to hosts United Arab Emirates in their second Group stage match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
It was a nervy start from the UAE. It could be the aftereffects of the 1-1 draw to Bahrain, fear of failure, pure pressure or just the atmosphere.
The Indians, on the other hand, were sensational.
Udanta Singh challenged the UAE backline, skipper Sunil Chhetri and Muhammad Ashique combo tormented keeper Khalid Eisa, Anirudh Thapa produced some crispy passes and the back-four was solid with Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan at the heart of defence.
In the 12th minute, the visitors had the first real chance of the half as Chhetri set Ashique away with the ball but his shot was parried away by Eisa. India had another close attempt but Chhetri’s sharp header from Thapa’s cross was once more saved by the dependable Eisa.
The UAE had some promising moments through Ali Hassan Salmin and Khamis Esmaeel but both the ‘Whites’ shot went wide.
It was a day when the Indians hit the post twice in the second half and muffed two in the first-half. Alhamsi’s 40th-minute strike much against the run of play, and then Ali Mabkhout’s 80th-minute goal played villain on a night where the Blue Tigers gave the hosts the scare of their lives from the first minute itself.
It just seemed like fate did not allow India to score.In the first half, India could have almost sealed it. The Blue Tigers started with an attacking intensity, and although lacked possession, chances came in bright and plenty.
India could have surged into the lead as early as the 8th minute when Sandesh Jhingan got a free-header off a corner kick but headed it wide.
Three minutes later, the Arab custodian Khalid Bilal pulled out a world class save to break Indian hearts and deny Ashique Kuruniyan’s shot from close range after Sunil Chhetri had put him through.
If that wasn’t enough of a goal scoring chance, skipper Chhetri was handed a golden opportunity in the 23rd minute. Chhetri was found in the box by Anirudh Thapa but his header went straight to the rival Goalkeeper.
Had India taken these chances, the Blue Tigers would have been up 3-0 in less than thirty minutes — such was the intensity of their counter-attacks which was promoted through the defensive solidity at the back.
With India unable to take their chances, UAE scored against the run of play in the 40th minute. Khalfan Alhamsi took advantage of a slight miscommunication in the Indian defence and found the back of the net through a chip from a tight angle.
India had another chance to open their goalscoring tally after the UAE defence fluffed a routine clearance providing Sunil Chhetri with a tight angle to score. Chhetri’s placement went inches past the goal as India failed to capitalize and went trailing into the breather.
Trailing by a goal, India brought in Jeje Lalpekhlua — who scored against Thailand — in place of Halicharan Narzary. It didn’t take long for the striker to take a shy at goal off a free-kick, but the ball went just wide off the top corner.
In the 55th minute, Udanta Singh’s effort was denied by the horizontal, but that was enough for the Indian fans to get behind the team. The noise in the stadium reached deafening levels and the Blue Tigers responded by making forays into the UAE half. This, however, allowed UAE opportunities on the counter, and had it not been for the vertical, Al Hammadi would have definitely widened the lead in the 74th minute.
Veteran striker Ismail Matar also got a run in the dying minutes and UAE made it 2-0 with Mabkhout getting into the scoring act with a fine finish from inside the box.
In the 55th minute, the Blue Tigers rattled the crossbar after Udanta Singh’s shot kissed the bar and went away, following a one-two with Sunil Chhetri inside the box.
In the 73rd minute, however, UAE skipper’s Alhammadi’s shot rattled the left post.
But they had the last laugh when in the 88th minute, Ali Mabkhout breached India’s defence and found the back of the net to take it beyond India’s reach.
With Jhingan’s header in the last minute of extra time finding the framework, it was clear that lady luck was just not on India’s side this night.
INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK); Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose; Udanta Singh (79’ – Jackichand Singh), Pronay Halder, Anirudh Thapa (70’ – Rowllin Borges), Halicharan Narzary (45’ – Jeje Lalpekhlua), Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri (C).