January 18 – Group B hopefuls Uzbekistan were victorious over India in a match decided by a ferocious first-half display at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan.
Leading 3-0 at the half time break thanks to goals from Abbosbek Fayzullayev, Igor Sergeev and Sherzoo Nasrulloev, the team controlled the second half to earn a victory that should see the side progress to the Round of 16.
Uzbekistan manager Srečko Katanec made two changes in attack from his side’s opening match against Syria – both players got on to the scoresheet to repay their managers faith.
Katanec’s side opened the game with great pace, as the team showed their awareness that this may be the best opportunity to pick up the points needed to progress.
They capitalised on their dominance with an early opener as Fayzullayev converted a close-range header following a mixup in India’s defence in the third minute.
India keeper Sandhu made up for his early mistake with a duo of superb saves inside the first ten minutes to rescue his side from a disastrous opening to the crucial match.
Keeping the pressure on the docile Indian defence, Uzbek winger Jaloliddin Masharipov struck the crossbar with a sweeping cross from a set-piece situation. The keeper was beaten.
Another defence mistake inside the first 20 minutes as the back line was exposed by Ukbekistan’s attackers, resulting in a chaotic pinball in the India box which was finished by Uzbek striker Sergeev from extremely close range.
India needed to patch up these errors or things could get ugly. The side weren’t playing badly, just buckling under the weight of opposition press and desire. With the team needing at least a point to be in with a chance of progressing, it was now or never for the team on a billion backs.
Spurred on by their underdog status, India’s attacking play began to improve, creating a couple of chances from set piece situations but nothing high quality enough to test Uzbek keeper Yusupov.
Uzbekistan almost went 3-0 up in the 34th minute as Indian keeper Sandhu denied a point-blank effort from Fayzullayev, who was a thorn in India’s side throughout the first half.
Indian winger Singh came close to pulling one back before the half with a thumping long-range strike that tested the Uzbek keeper. But it was the Uzbeks who were to score seconds before the half time break, with full back Nasrulloev piling on India’s woes with a kind rebound that played right to his feet for an easy tap-in.
A rejuvenated India returned in supreme attacking style, smashing the crossbar and forcing saves from the keeper as the players appeared to be armed with a new-look aggression.
Manvir Singh made way for Rahul Paveen as India’s only half-time substitution in an effort to rescue the game.
Uzbekistan took off goal scorer Nasrulloev at the break, perhaps to rest the player with the manager confident in his team’s ability to see out the match.
India’s support was fantastic regardless of the scoreline.
The pace of the game slowed down as Uzbekistan played to secure the result and India began to lose faith with time running out.
As the second half matured, Uzbekistan became increasingly confident and patient on the ball, retaining possession comfortably and effectively as they sapped away India’s energy.
Collecting his man of the match award, goalscorer Abbosbek Fayzullayev said: “I want to thank all our fans. There was an amazing crowd here to support us and we felt it. It gave us extra energy to win the game.
“We played really well. We prepared well and set up tactically and did a great job.”
Uzbekistan now face Australia in their final group game with the winner topping the group. Syria could keep Uzbekistan out of the last 16 if they beat India and the Uzbeks lose.
Contact the writer of this, Harry Ewing, at email@example.com