AFC Asian Cup: India Lose to UAE, Made to Wait for Knockout Berth
India’s hopes of securing their maiden knockout berth at the AFC Asian Cup will have to wait after going down 2-0 to UAE at Abu Dhabi on Thursday, 10 January.
Buoyed by a thumping 4-1 victory against Thailand in their Group A opener on Sunday, 6 January – their first win in the competition since 1964 – India came into their second group stage outing knowing three points would secure a spot in the Round of 16.
But a late goal apiece in either half – from Khalfan Mubarak in the 41st minute, and Ali Mabkhout in the 88th – condemned Stephen Constantine’s side to their first defeat of the campaign.
The result, coupled with a 1-0 victory for Thailand over Bahrain in Thursday’s earlier contest, means India slip to second in the group standings, level on three points with Thailand and one point behind UAE.
Blue Tigers Pay for Missed Chances
Up against a side placed 18 spots above them in the FIFA rankings – 79 to 97 – India gave a good account of themselves, at least as far as attacking was concerned.
Right from the start, there was no dearth of chances.
Sunil Chhetri played Ashique Kuruniyan in on 11 minutes, who forced goalkeeper Khalid Eisa into a fine save. 12 minutes later, Eisa had to be sharp to deny Chhetri a header which could have given the Indian captain on the night his third goal of the tournament.
The good work, and sustained spell of pressure, however, was undone when a defensive lapse gave Mabkhout the space to put Mubarak through, who made no mistake in slotting past Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Chhetri came within inches of restoring parity before the interval, but his shot from a tight angle whizzed just beyond the far post.
The second period played to a similar script. Udanta Singh rattled the crossbar with India’s best chance of the game 10 minutes after the break. Minutes earlier, substitute Jeje Lalpekhlua had thumped one narrowly off target from close range.
UAE punctured some of India’s attacking intent with their own phase of control, and hit the post themselves in the 74th minute through Ismail Al Hamadi.
Any hopes the Blue Tigers harboured of nicking a point were crushed with two minutes of regulation time left to play, when Mabkhout calmly finished after being set free by an aerial ball from Ali Salmin.
Group A: How Things Stand
- UAE: 4 points, goal difference +2
- India: 3 points, goal difference +1
- Thailand: 3 points, goal difference -2
- Bahrain: 1 point, goal difference -1
With UAE locking horns with Thailand and India up against Bahrain in the final round of Group A fixtures on Monday, 14 January, the hosts will go through to the knockout stage with a draw.
India’s fate remains in their hands; win against Bahrain, ranked 113th in the world, and the Blue Tigers will be in the second round of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in the history of the competition.
A draw, too, is likely to see India through to the Round of 16.
The format of the Asian Cup 2019 allows the top two teams from all six groups, in addition to four best third-placed finishers to qualify for the last-16.