Blue Tigers go down to Uzbekistan in Asian Cup battle

DOHA, QATAR: India’s campaign in the AFC Asian Cup 2023, sustained a serious dent on Thursday, January 18, 2024, when they went down to Uzbekistan 0-3 in a Group B encounter. All the goals came in the first half.

This was India’s second consecutive defeat in the competition as they lost to Australia 0-2 in the first match. India are technically still alive in the continental meet since they have a match in hand against Syria on January 23, but the result of it might not have any positive impact on India’s chances to progress to the next round. Uzbekistan, who drew their first match against Syria, now have four points. India are without a point. 

Playing on the lush green turf of Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in front of a huge number of Indian fans, Igor Stimac’s men were caught on the wrong foot early in the match when they conceded the first goal in the fourth minute. Abbosbek Fayzullev, the 20-year-old Uzbekistan striker, left Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stranded under the bar with a header from close range to open the scoring for his team against India as well as in the tournament.

India’s night at Doha was further soured when Uzbekistan doubled the lead in the 18th minute, with Igor Sergeev stabbing in the second goal to punish the Blue Tigers for a costly defensive error. The Indian defence failed to learn from the mistake and committed yet another blunder well into the add-on time before half time, resulting in Sherzod Nashrullaev slamming in the third off a rebound inside the six-yard box.

In between, India made some brave efforts, with skipper Sunil Chhetri and Mahesh Naorem Singh coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions in the first half, but all their courageous ventures got overshadowed by their inability to hold on to the speedy Uzbek attackers at the rear end. The fact that India head coach Stimac threw his hands in despair after the third goal was a gesture that virtually told the Blue Tigers’ story in the first half.

But then, it would still be wrong to dismiss India as being no good despite the soft goals they conceded. Stimac had his plan ready and decided to opt for the attacking options deliberately; the loss against Australia in the first match left him with few options. The introduction of Akash Mishra, Suresh Singh Wangjam, or Anirudh Thapa was well-intended and did produce some measured moves to rattle the Uzbek defence.

India were definitely unlucky not to pick up their first goal of the current meet early in the second half when Rahul KP’s shot hit the upright. Both Mahesh and Chhetri pounced on the rebounders and the Uzbekistan goal had real close shaves, much to the relief of their bench.

It was not the only time the post came India’s way in the second session. Once Rahul Bheke took a header that had goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov beaten all ends up. He looked helpless but heaved a sigh of relief to find the crossbar, coming to his rescue leaving the Indian fans frustrated.

If Uzbekistan were highly skilled, physically stronger and frighteningly aggressive, then India would match them in the middle with their never-say-die attitude. The apparent difference between the two teams in winning the second ball notwithstanding, India won a considerable number of passes in the midfield, often created attacks through both flanks, and kept the rival defenders busy with regular forays.

India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Nikhil Poojary, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke, Akash Mishra, Lalengmawia Apuia, Suresh Singh Wangjam (Deepak Tangri 84’), Manvir Singh (Rahul KP 46’), Anirudh Thapa (Brandon Fernandes 72’), Mahesh Singh Naorem (Udanta Singh 86’), Sunil Chhetri (Ishan Pandita 72’).

India: 0
Uzbekistan: 3 (Abbosbek Fayzullev 4’, Igor Sergeev 18’, Sherzod Nashrullaev 43’)

Also Read: Mumbai Knights clinches WIFA Women’s Football League Championships 2023-24

Also Read: Blue Tigers take battle stations against Uzbekistan

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