India did not have luck on their side as they went down 0-2 against hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their Asian Cup 2019 group A battle at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, on Thursday.
Despite fashioning several goal-scoring chances and keeping UAE attack at bay for most part, India were punished by strikes from Khalfan Mubarak (40’) and Ali Mabkhout (88’).
The result sees India drop down to the second spot in the group with three points, while UAE go top with four in their kitty.
After a shaky start, India grew into the game well and had the UAE defence on red alert after weathering the first few minutes of UAE’s pressure. The Blue Tigers hit long balls behind the hosts’ defence targeting Udanta Singh whose pace kept the UAE defence busy.
The Blue Tigers came incredibly close to breaking the deadlock in the 11th minute. Sunil Chhetri, who was alert to a careless pass in midfield, nicked the ball off the feet of Ali Salmin and played Ashique Kuruniyan through on goal. The Pune City winger tested Khalid Eisa with a fierce shot from inside the box but the UAE custodian pulled off an excellent one-handed save to tip the ball over the bar.
India piled the pressure on their opponents as the first half progressed. In the 23rd minute, Anirudh Thapa produced a teasing cross into the box for Sunil Chhetri at the far post, but the Indian captain headed straight at the goalkeeper from close range.
UAE, however, punished India’s lacklustre defending and took the lead in the 41st minute against the run of play. Anas Edathodika misjudged the flight of a punt from the back and the ball fell to Ali Mabkhout who released Khalfan Mubarak into the box. The forward finished the move brilliantly, with an angled finish past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
India almost had the perfect response at the other end two minutes later. Alhasan Saleh failed to clear Gurpreet’s long kick and the ball fell for Chhetri who fired inches wide of goal from a narrow angle.
Stephen Constantine brought on Jeje Lalpekhlua who replaced Halicharan Narzary as India sought a way back into the game.
The half-time substitute almost had an instant impact with a volley from outside the box in the 53rd minute which flew agonisingly wide.
Jeje was involved again two minutes later, this time feeding Udanta on the edge of the box. The Bengaluru winger found space to shoot after a give-and-go with Chhetri. But he saw his shot come off the cross-bar with the UAE defence well beaten.
UAE threatened to score their second goal in the 75th minute when Mubarak found Ismail Al Hamadi inside the box. The forward’s right-footed shot took a deflection off Pritam Kotal’s legs, struck the post before going out of play.
Despite India’s persistent efforts to find the equaliser, Ali Mabkhout scored in the 88th minute to seal the win for UAE. Ali Salmin played a delightful ball over the top of the Indian defence for Mabkhout who held off Pritam Kotal to slot the ball into the net.
India’s frustrations were only increased when Sandesh Jhingan hit the post with a header late on. The Blue Tigers now face Bahrain in the final group clash on Monday.
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