Tajikistan ride brilliant second-half performance to upset Syria

Tajikistan, ranked 120th in the current FIFA Rankings, pulled off a 2-0 upset win over Syria, ranked 85th, in the third match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. The Persian Lions now have two wins in two matches in the competition and are favourites to play the final on July 19.

Syria dominated the first-half but some brilliant goalkeeping by Rustam Yatimov and a little help from the upright kept the match goalless. Tajikistan came out with intent in the second-half and bagged the win.

  • The first-half ended goalless even though Syria rattled the upright thrice.
  • Komron Tursunov scored a brilliant goal to hand Tajikistan the lead right after the restart.
  • Ilhomjon Barotov doubled the lead on the 67th minute.

Syria head coach Fajer Ebrahim left out star striker and captain Firas Alkhatib from the starting XI with Tamer Hag Mohamad donning the captain's armband for the night. Apart from that, he made three changes to the squad which started in the win against DPR Korea. His counterpart Usmon Toshev, on the other hand, named an unchanged XI to the one which won against India in the opening match.

After an edgy start to the tie, the first real chance of the match fell Syria's way on the 14th minute. A defensive lapse by Tajikistan opened things up for Ahmad Alahmad, who hit the target with a powerful shot. Tajik goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov had to pull off a stunning save to keep the scorelines level.

The chance spurred on the Assyrians, as they turned the screws on the Tajik defence. A combination of a few fine saves from Yatimov, aided by the upright on a few occasions, came to the Persian Lions' rescue. The first-half ended goalless.

Almost immediately after the restart, Tajikistan took the lead. Komron Tursunov received the ball some 35 yards away from goal and buried one in the top corner with a rocket of a shot to make it 1-0.

The shell-shocked Syria team tried hard to hit back, but a stern Tajik defence held strong to deny them any openings. Tajikistan extended their advantage on the 67th minute. A well-worked move freed up Panshanbe Ehsoni down the right wing. The midfielder cut the ball back for an onrushing Ilhomjon Barotov, who made no mistakes while slotting it past Syria goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma.

It was a matter of game management for the Tajiks’ from there on out, which they executed flawlessly to secure the win. Syria did carve out a few late chances, but some great goalkeeping by Hero of the Match Yatimov kept the score 2-0 in Tajikistan’s favour.

Coach Speak

Tajikistan head coach Usmon Toshev was delighted with the result but wasn't quite happy with the performance of the first-half. "Our team, in the first 45 minutes, was a bit too relaxed. There were some distractions. We needed to be more serious, start playing our football and not get distracted," he said.

Asked about how he changed things up in the second period, Toshev said, "I asked the team to remain fully concentrated, be responsible. We needed that victory."

Tajikistan hasn't been in the best of forms leading up to the tournament but won both their fixtures, first against India and then against the mighty Syria side. The 53-year-old, quizzed about the sudden upturn in fortunes, said, "I think every sportsman wishes to win every game in every tournament. I wanted to win and still want to win."

Syria head coach Fajer Ebrahim analysed the loss and promised a much better performance in their next match against India. "Congratulations to Tajikistan for the win. We hit the post thrice, created a lot of chances, but it wasn't enough. We were really good in the first-half and played very well. But we weren't ready physically in the second-half," he said.

"This is a new team. I need to keep encouraging them. We will have a lot of rest before the match against India and we will be in much better shape and can perform better," he added.

What’s Next?

Tajikistan’s next venture in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 will be against DPR Korea on July 15, while Syria take on hosts India on July 16.

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