India 0 UAE 2
By Samindra Kunti
January 10 – Hosts the United Arab Emirates secured a vital 2-0 win against India in clinical style to get their Asian Cup campaign back on track, but they were left to sweat until the last minute of the game by a resourceful and hard-working India.
Stephen Constantine had vowed that India would play for the three points and the Blue Tigers lived up to that promise with scintillating football in the first 30 minutes. They demonstrated pace on the wings with Udanta Singh on the right and India’s pressing bamboozled the hosts who should have been 2-0 down after 20 minuites.
India’s pace and precision overpowered a static UAE, who sat back and, apart from Ismail Al-Hammadi, the captain, offered little energy in the final third of the field. India should have scored in the 12th minute, but Ashique Kuruniyan, released by Sunil Chhetri, failed to beat UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa with a left-footed attempt.
A few minutes later Chhetri, who had scored twice against Thailand, headed an excellent chance straight at Eisa at the far post. The UAE repeatedly failed to pick up India’s runners as the blue shirts outnumbered the hosts everywhere on the field.
On the touchline, Alberto Zaccheroni kept on chewing his gum as his team were restricted to desperate long shots from outside the box.
India were ultimately punished for their profligacy in front of goal when the UAE pounced on their first real opportunity in the 41st minute. Khalfan Mubarak ghosted through central defender Anas Edathodika and midfielder Pronay Halder to blast an angled shot across goal through giant Indian keeper Groreet Singh Sandhu.
It was a cruel blow for an Indian side who had made most of the running. Constantine signalled his intent at the start of the second half by taking off Halicharan Narzary for striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. Kuruniya moved to the left and India maintained their industrious approach.
India bombarded Eisa’s goal. Singh’s dainty volley sailed inches past the top corner, but it was Sing, who came closest to equalising, slamming the ball against the goal-frame after an incisive one-two with Chhetri.
Zaccheroni introduced Ahmad Majed in the midfield to establish some measure of control as the game slowed down. As the Indians ran out of legs in the final 20 minutes, the host nation nearly doubled their lead in 75th-minute pinball moment in the Indian box, but Al-Hammadi’s opportunistic poke through the legs of an opposing defender rebounded off the woodwork and the Indian number one for a corner kick.
It was the UAE’s turrn to boss the midfield now and Ali Mabkhout killed the game in the 88th minute with a simple second goal. He toyed with India’s Pritam Kotal, who had struggled all evening, and almost leisurely slotted the ball past Singh into the net. In the last second of the game India struck the bar again, but they had run out of steam against Zaccheroni’s highly efficient eleven.
The UAE fans in an attendance of 43, 206, the highest attendance of the championship so far, heaved a collective sigh of relief. As did Zaccheroni who most pundits reckoned would have been on his way back to Italy if the UAE hadn’t won this match.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1607155866labto1607155866ofdlr1607155866owedi1607155866sni@o1607155866fni1607155866