Blue Tigers lose to UAE after failing to make chances count

Picture courtesy: AFC Media

The Blue Tigers slumped to a 2-0 defeat against host nation UAE in their second match of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 on Thursday. India created the better of the chances over the course of 90 minutes, but a lack of proficiency in finishing and some bad luck cost Stephen Constantine’s men the match.

The result opens up Group A considerably, with all four teams in with a chance to qualify for the knockout stage going into the final group match on January 14.

  • Khalfan Mubarak Alshamsi gave UAE the lead on the 41st minute
  • India created a host of dangerous chances throughout the match but failed to convert them into goals.
  • Ali Ahmed Mabkhout doubled UAE’s lead on the 88th minute

Constantine decided to stick with the same starting XI which delivered so splendidly against Thailand, but it was UAE who started on the front foot as the host country put some early pressure on the Blue Tigers' backline.

After weathering the early storm, India started to get into the match and created a few dangerous opportunities of their own. Sandesh Jhingan missed a good chance from an Anirudh Thapa cross on the 8th minute. The defender found space and time for a header inside the opposition box, but his effort was high and wide.

Ashique Kuruniyan was deployed in the same curious roaming no. 9 position he played so well in against Thailand and was often the furthest man forward for the Blue Tigers in the first-half. The youngster found himself on the end of a delightful opportunity on the 11th minute when a brilliant Sunil Chhetri pass sent him through on goal. The FC Pune City man only had Khalid Eisa Bilal to beat but the UAE goalkeeper made a good save to deny him.

Bilal was called into action yet again just after the 20-minute mark. Udanta Singh carried the ball forward down the right wing and cut the ball back for Anirudh Thapa near the edge of the box. The 20-year-old swung in a perfect cross for Chhetri at the far post. The India no. 11 escaped his marker with a well-timed run and connected his header. Unfortunately, it was directed straight at the goalkeeper. A few inches in either direction and India would have taken the lead. The UAE attackers, meanwhile, were restricted to long-range efforts by virtue of some disciplined defending and intelligent pressing.

Picture courtesy: AFC Media

However, after the half-hour mark, the hosts took control of the possession and kept probing at the India defence. Despite being pegged deep in their own half, the Blue Tigers seemed to be in control and denied UAE any space inside the 18-yard box. But the sustained pressure finally yielded results for the host nation on the 41st minute. Ali Ahmed Mabkhout did well to hold the ball up from a long pass before feeding an onrushing Khalfan Mubarak Alshamsi. The midfielder took a couple of touches to make space for a shot and scored from a tight angle.

The Blue Tigers could have hit back almost immediately through Chhetri. The UAE defence misjudged a long goal kick, creating the opportunity for India's captain for the night. The striker tried to cushion the ball inside the far post, but his shot was agonizingly wide. India went into the break trailing by a single goal.

Constantine brought in striker Jeje Lalpekhlua in place of Halicharan Narzary just after half-time, and the Mizo striker almost made an immediate impact. Jeje’s cheeky volley from outside the box missed the target by centimetres. Soon after, India came even closer with Udanta. The winger’s vicious effort came out after hitting the underside of the crossbar.

The Indian defence had a few dodgy moments after the 70-minute mark and UAE almost made them pay. Captain Ismail Salem Alhammadi’s deflected shot had Gurpreet Singh Sandhu beat but came off the post. With India committing men forward in search of the late equaliser, Ali Mabkhout made use of the gaps in the India defence to make the score 2-0 in favour of UAE.

Jhingan had the opportunity to pull a goal back for India in stoppage time, but his header from a Rowllin Borges free-kick came off the post.

What’s Next?

The Blue Tigers’ next outing in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 will be against Bahrain on January 14th.

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