Super sub Khribin sends Syria into last 16

January 23 – Former Asian player of the year Omar Khribin came off the bench to deservedly fire Syria past a committed India and secure an historic first ever qualification for the last 16 of the Asian Cup as one of the best third-placed teams after other results went in their favour.

To the delight of the Syrian fans at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Khribin struck a 76th minute winner – Syria’s first goal of the tournament—to put his team on four points and end India’s brave resistance, in the process sending them home from Qatar.

Besides the top two from each group, the four best third-placed teams across all the groups also make the final 16.

Syria’s win ensured that they were one of those four, the players celebrating wildly at the end as the Eagles of Qasioun finally got the job done at the seventh attempt.

A draw suited neither team which made for an enthralling spectacle, especially in a fast-paced first half before a more cagey second period when both teams were anxious not to make any fatal mistakes.

India had Rahul Bheke booked after just 90 seconds but enjoyed a promising opening and the first  effort on goal from Manvir Singh whose angled shot was blocked by keeper Ahmad Madania.

Gradually, however, Syria’s superior experience and physicality took over.  Pablo Sabbag saw a shot blocked on the line, then got agonisingly close to getting the last touch from Mouaiad Alajaan’s sublime cross.

Syria continued to threaten and India were indebted to their defence for scrambling the ball to safety after keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu parried but couldn’t hold another shot, this time from Ezequiel Ham.

As tempers flared amidst the tension, Syrian defender Ampntoul Rachman Oues’ was a trifle fortunate to get a yellow card rather than red after stupidly reacting to being tucked back. But as the free-flowing intensity continued,  Syria’s appeal for a penalty after Amar Ramadan appeared to be clipped in the box went unheeded after a VAR check.

By now, Syria had very much the upper hand but couldn’t find a way past India’s back line, marshalled superbly by Sandesh Jhingan.

Just before halftime, however, Jhingan went down clutching his knee and needed lengthy treatment. It was no surprise, therefore, when he lasted only a couple more minutes after the break before having to be replaced.

Still, India managed to keep out their stronger opponents whilst creating a couple of half chances of their own on the counter.

Who would blink first as this most crucial of final Group B fixtures began to get more frenzied and a series of forward passes went stray?

Khribin, who had come on at halftime, fluffed a glorious chance when he put a free header over the bar after great work by Ibrahim Hesar who plays his club football in Argentina.

It looked as if India might hold on but on 76 minutes all that changed.

India twice lost possession inside their own half and when Ibrahim played the ball across, Khribin this time kept his cool and lashed it into the net for his 22nd Syrian goal, unconcerned by receiving a yellow card for removing his shirt in celebration.

India tried to respond but to no avail and after seven minutes of added time, Hector Cuper’s men finally got over the line courtesy of their 2017 Asian player of the year, prompting utter delirium on the Syrian bench.

“It’s an incredible feeling, I can’t really describe it,” said Khribin who made all the difference. “We have made all the Syrian fans happy and now we go step by step.”

India’s long-time talisman, Sunil Chhetri, bemoaned going out of the tournament with no points and not a single goal to show for their efforts.

“We tried our best and we feel very dejected because we knew with a win we might have a chance to qualify,” he said after what will surely be his final Asian Cup appearance. “It felt like a home game with all the fans and although the result wasn’t what we wanted, we will keep coming back and try to improve.”

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1709091024labto1709091024ofdlr1709091024owedi1709091024sni@w1709091024ahsra1709091024w.wer1709091024dna1709091024


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