Football is a beautiful game, but it is indeed unforgiving too: one rare blunder is all it takes to drastically alter the outcome of a game. As the Indians belted out the national anthem before the game, you could tell they were on a mission; a mission to achieve the unthinkable, a mission to achieve what no Indian team had done before. They put their bodies on the line, defended doggedly and played fearlessly but one rash tackle from captain Pronay Halder in the 90th minute saw the team crash out of the Asian Cup 2019 in dramatic fashion.
With less than a minute left on the clock and the scoreline reading 0-0, it appeared Stephen Constantine's men had done enough to earn a spot in the round-of-16. But India's hopes went up in smoke when Halder hacked down Hamed Alshamsan in the box and Bahrain's gem of the evening, Jamal Rashed Abdulrahman, slotted the ball past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to propel Bahrain to a 1-0 win and seal a knockout berth.
The Indians got off on the wrong foot as centre-back Anas Edathodika was replaced by Salam Ranjan Singh after picking up an injury in the fourth minute. The defence survived a series of counter-attacks in the early exchanges. Bahrain breached the Indian box as early as the 30th second of the game and played a large majority of the next 90 minutes in and around the box. As the crowd laid out round after round of the Mexican Wave, Bahrain's attackers ran circles around the Indian defence. The twinkle-toed Rashed was the thorn in India's defence with his dizzying runs and nimble footwork, which had the Indians dancing to his tunes.
Constantine's tactics seemed clear: to defend deep and wait for counter-attacking opportunities. However, the team struggled to keep the ball. In the quest to transition quickly from defence to attack, they ended up losing the ball far too often and looked like a pale shadow of the side that won hearts aplenty in its first two games.
Bahrain had its share of chances in the opening half but India managed to hold the fort. Miroslav Soukup's men continued to pile the pressure and the Indians endured a period of insurmountable pressure in the last 20 minutes. Jasim Marhoon struck the upright in the 71st minute and Bahrain won an indirect freekick from the penalty spot two minutes later. The defence survived both but that wasn't enough.
Needing an outright win to progress, Bahrain launched a series of attacks in search of the elusive goal and was rewarded with a penalty in the 90th minute. Halder hacking down AlShamsan in the box earned it a penalty and Rashed's finish down the centre sealed the game.
The full-time whistle went off three minutes later and players of both teams fell to their knees. The boys in white rejoiced their last-gasp, goosebumps-inducing win, while the Indians were heartbroken. The Indians endured a long and winding journey to get to the Asian Cup and rub shoulders with Asia's best. Unfortunately for them, the journey ends at the first hurdle.
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