UAE strike two past gritty India

UAE strike two past gritty India

India's goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu thwarts United Arab Emirates' Ismail Al Hamadi in the Asian Cup on Thursday.

India left their scoring boots and luck in the dressing room while hosts United Arab Emirates found both after a subdued start to record a 2-0 win in the AFC Asian Cup here on Thursday.

Khalfan Mubarak (41st minute) and Ali Ahmed Mabkhout (88th) scored for the home team, entering the game in some desperation after a 1-1 stalemate with Bahrain in the tournament opener.

UAE moved top of the table in Group A with four points from two matches while second-placed India still remain in the hunt for a knockout berth with three points from two matches.

India had drubbed Thailand 4-1 in their opening match Sunday but the Thais got their campaign back on track with a 1-0 win over Bahrain while Jordan beat Syria 2-0 to enter the knockouts from Group B.

India made a positive start in both the halves and created many chances, but paid dearly for lacking the finishing touch.

The Blue Tigers missed three big chances in the first half and while they created opportunities after the break too, India were denied on two occasions by the woodwork.

UAE enjoyed possession initially but, to the surprise of many, India had more shots on goal and dominated proceedings by keeping the opposition defence busy.

Sandesh Jhingan’s free header off a corner by Anirudh Thapa went off target and then, Sunil Chhetri’s header off a Thapa pass was brilliantly saved by UAE custodian Khalid Eisa. If those misses in the eighth and 23rd minutes gave India the belief that they will be able to fight their fancied opponents, they also made them a bit restless.

And UAE, positioned 18 places above the 97th ranked India in the FIFA chart, used that to their advantage when Mubarak charged forward and latched on to a ball by Ali Ahmed Mabkhout, who ran in from the right.

It was not that the Indian defence was in disarray but they would have done well to clear the ball at first instance. Thapa, the team’s youngest member at 20, could not get there in time while Anas Edathodika and Jhingan also could not come in the way of Mubarak, who scored his first international goal.

The joy would have been short-lived for the home team had Chhetri’s attempt not missed the target by a whisker in the 43rd minute.

Down by a goal at the break, India were not disheartened and made their intentions clear in the second half.

Constantine brought in Jeje Lalpekhlua in place of Halicharan Narzary and the Mizo forward nearly did an encore in the 53rd minute. Jeje’s volley went inches off the post.

Three minutes later, India again experienced the so-near-yet-so-far feeling when Udanta Singh’s shot ricocheted off the bar. UAE then put the issue beyond doubt when Mabkhout came up with a cool finish two minutes from the end -- his 47th goal in 75 internationals -- to give the scoreline a somewhat flattering complexion.