AFC Asian Cup: India suffer narrow defeat to Syria in final group game
Omar Khribin's goal crushed India's slim hopes of making it to the next round, handing Syria a vital win in their final group stage game.
The Indian football team faced a heart-wrenching 0-1 defeat against Syria in their final group game of the AFC Asian Cup at the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday.
After experiencing losses in their initial two group stage matches against Australia and Uzbekistan, India needed a victory to maintain a chance of advancing to the next round, contingent upon favourable outcomes in the other groups.
Unfortunately, Omar Khribin's goal crushed India's slim hopes, resulting in the team finishing the group stage with zero points from three matches.
India head coach Igor Stimac implemented three changes to the starting eleven from their previous match against Uzbekistan, reintroducing Subashish Bose, Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Deepak Tangri.
India initiated the game promisingly, creating the first clear-cut chance with Manvir Singh providing a pass for Mahesh Singh. Despite a skillful move past the Syrian defence, Mahesh's shot from a narrow angle tested goalkeeper Ahmed Madanieh, marking the only significant chance for India in the opening half and the entire game.
Syria gradually regained control, creating more opportunities in the first half which ended goalless.
Following Mahesh's initial attempt, Syria had a chance to take the lead after winning a set piece. Pablo Sabbag connected with a corner from Jalil Elias, but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu thwarted the attempt.
Around the quarter mark, Mahesh played a crucial role again as India nearly broke the deadlock from a free-kick. His deflected cross reached the far post, where Sunil Chhetri's header went wide.
While Syria maintained pressure on India in the first half, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made critical saves, keeping the scores level at half-time.
However, India faced a setback at the start of the second half when Sandesh Jhingan was substituted by Nikhil Poojary due to an injury.
Despite Syria's dominance, India had a chance to equalise after an error from Madanieh. The Syrian goalkeeper's failure to deal with a long cross presented Lallianzuala Chhangte an opportunity at the far post, but defender Abdul Oues made a crucial interception.
India made two substitutions after the hour mark, introducing Sahal Abdul Samad and Suresh Wangjam. Sahal almost made an immediate impact, seeing his shot blocked after receiving a pass from Chhetri.
However, Syria's relentless pressure paid off in the latter stages of the game as substitute Omar Khribin slotted in a cutback pass at the near post, securing a vital lead for Syria. Hector Cuper's side defended resolutely, making it difficult for India to create clear chances, ultimately securing the win.
With this result, Syria finished the group stages with four points in Group B, keeping their hopes alive for progression to the Round of 16 in the AFC Asian Cup.