A spirited India dominated pre-game favourites the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before going down 0-2 in their second Group A match at the Asian Cup football tournament here on Thursday.
The Blue Tigers, who beat Thailand 4-1 in their campaign opener, will next play Bahrain in their last match on Monday.
India are presently on three points from two matches, same as Thailand, with hosts the UAE currently topping the group with 4 points from two matches. The UAE had previously drawn 1-1 with Bahrain.
It was a day when the Indians hit the post twice in the second-half and muffed two in the first-half.
The UAE took the lead against the run of play when Khalfan Mubarak (41st minute) produced a well placed finish a short while before the break. The hosts got their second goal a couple of minutes before the end of regulation time when a long ball caught most of the Indian defence out of position and Ali Mabkho (88th) scored with a good finish.
The Indians created around half a dozen clear chances, most of which came off the woodwork but it just seemed like luck was not on their side. 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 30 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, the 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 Chhetri with a tight angle to score.
Chhetri’s placement went inches past the goal as India failed to capitalise and went trailing into the breather.
Changing over, the chances kept coming for India. In the 53rd minute, Jeje Lalpekhlua, who was brought on as a substitute for Halicharan Narzay, tried to slyly chip past the goalkeeper from range after a failed clearance fell to his chest. His shot, however, went past the goal and the UAE goalkeeper.
In the 55th minute, the visitors rattled the crossbar after Udanta Singh’s shot kissed the bar and went away, following a one-two with Chhetri inside the box. In the 73rd minute, however, the UAE skipper 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.
A desperate India went all out and the UAE had another close shave when Sandesh Jhingan’s header off a Rowllin Borges’ free-kick bounced back off the bar.