Heartbreak for gritty India

Heartbreak for gritty India

BATTLING SHOW: India's Sunil Chhetri (right) attempts to stop Bahrain's Mohammad Marhoon during their AFC Asian Cup clash on Monday. AFP

India crashed out of the AFC Asian Cup after a cruel 1-0 defeat at the hands of Bahrain at the Al Sharjah stadium here on Monday.

The Blue Tigers delivered a resilient display to keep the match goalless for most of the game and looked to have done enough to secure progression.

But a penalty from Jamal Rashed in the 90th minute ended India’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the very first time in history.

India were dealt a shock in the 90th minute when Pronay Halder brought down Hamed Alshamsan. Rashed stepped and coolly converted to break the Indian hearts.

Bahrain, who were staring at a group stage exit, finished second behind UAE on 4 points while India ended fourth on 3 points. Thailand, who lost to India in their opening clash, were third on 4 points following a come-from-behind 1-1 draw against UAE (5).  

India suffered an early setback when Anas Edathodika had to be substituted in the fourth minute due to an injury. Despite the change, India stood firm at the back and denied their opponents space and time on the ball.

The Blue Tigers steadily grew into the game and threatened at the other end when Pritam Kotal swung a cross into the box for Ashique Kuruniyan in the 12th minute. The Pune City winger, deployed as a striker alongside Sunil Chhetri, missed his header and the chance went begging.

Rowllin Borges and Halder exerted their influence in the midfield and India grew dominant in the attack.

In the 22nd minute, Halicharan Narzary collected a pass to the left and unleashed a ferocious shot at goal but the effort took a deflection off Syed Redha and hit the side-netting.

In the 28th minute, Halder's clever switch found Narzary in space on the left. The winger's low cross found Sunil Chhetri unmarked inside the box but Hamad Al Shamsan's timely intervention dispossessed the striker and kept Bahrain in the game.

Skipper Pronay Halder came to India's rescue at the stroke of half-time. A corner delivered to the far post was headed towards goal by Ahmed Ali Juma but the ATK midfielder was at the right place at the right time to head clear.

The tempo of the game dropped after the break, with a lot of breakages in play. The Indian defence, led by Sandesh Jhingan, remained resolute at the back and snuffed out Bahrain's attempts to take the lead.

Bahrain's efforts were restricted to half-chances and long-range efforts but Gurpreet was untested. In the 61st minute, Abdulla Yousef brilliantly laid the ball off for Komail Al Aswad whose piledriver flew inches over the crossbar.

India looked to hit Bahrain through quick breaks and Udanta Singh's pace had the opposition defence on red alert in the 64th minute. The Bengaluru FC winger was released in behind the defence before Al Shamsan brought him down and picked up the game's first yellow card.

A quick corner by Bahrain in the 71st minute was directed towards Abdulla Yousef in the box by Mohamed Marhoon but the former struck the post and scoreline remained unchanged.

A backpass to Gurpreet Singh by Subhasish Bose two minutes later was punished with an indirect free-kick to Bahrain but Jamal Rashed's shot from close-range was deflected over the bar by India's defensive wall.

Gurpreet pulled off an excellent save to deny Bahrain in the 85th minute. Abdulla Yousef's shot off a corner delivery was brilliantly parried away by the Bengaluru goalkeeper.