It's almost cruel that India didn't get a single point or even a goal against the United Arab Emirates in their AFC Asian Cup 2019 clash on Thursday.
The Indians did almost everything right – they created a host of goal-scoring opportunities, didn't offer the opposition a lot of space and managed to thwart away most of UAE's attacks. However, the side's inefficacy in front of goal and its acute inability to deal with aerial deliveries saw it crash to a 2-0 loss.
The misfortune in front of goal was on full display as Stephen Constantine's men had five good chances to find the back of the net but the closest they came was striking the woodwork twice.
Constantine adopted a 4-3-3 formation with Sunil Chhetri in the centre and Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh on either flank. The trio looked lethal up front and a clever exchange between Chhetri and Kuruniyan saw the latter through on goal. The youngster had only the 'keeper to beat but he went for power instead of placement and Khalid Eisa made a fine save to deny him.
Chhetri, who bagged a brace in the previous game, had a fine chance minutes later when he received a peach of a cross from the right but his header lacked venom and fell kindly for the 'keeper. Opening the scoring would've given India the all-important advantage but the side failed to capitalise and was later made to pay for it.
Jittery at the back
The Indian defence dealt with ground passes effectively but looked jittery when it came to dealing with long passes. Centre-backs Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika, who also represent Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League, failed to clearly communicate with each other and paved the way for the opening goal.
Ali Mabkhout was released down the right from a long delivery and both Jhingan and Edathodika had him in their radar but neither player shut him down. Mabkhout coolly squeezed past the two to assist Khalfan Mubarak for the opener. Incidentally, that was also the host's first shot on goal.
The lack of communication came to the fore soon again when Edathodika clashed with a teammate as neither was able to decide who'd clear the ball.
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India came within inches of scoring when Udanta Singh struck the crossbar in the 55th minute. Chhetri laid it up for him and Udanta's right-footed drive bounced off the woodwork and there was little anyone could do about it.
However, the Indians could have been more vigilant about aerial balls. It came back to haunt them as the second goal also came from a lob from midfield. It was Mabkhout who returned to torment the Indian defence as he chested the ball down and raced down the centre with Pritam Kotal snapping at his heels. Mabkhout skilfully sent Kotal the wrong way before beating a rooted Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
The crossbar remained India's biggest enemy of the evening as Jhingan's thunderous header rattled the post in the dying stages of the game.
One could say that India was unlucky on the evening but its also known that strong teams carve their own luck. The Blue Tigers will have to fix their their aerial abilities ahead of the Bahrain game, while the forwards...they'll just have to try to avoid the woodwork.