A 77th-minute strike by Kaseem Al Zein put paid to India’s hopes of retaining third place in the King’s Cup football tournament as Lebanon emerged 1-0 winners here on Sunday.
Lebanon, which couldn’t get the better of India in its last two meetings in Bhubaneswar and Bangalore, proved to be third-time lucky despite the Blue Tigers putting immense pressure on the rival defence, especially during the closing stages.
Just when it looked like India would force open the Lebanon defence at any moment, things completely went the other way as the West Asian side made most of a corner kick.
While Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu managed to palm away the first attempt, he had no time to do an encore when Kaseem Al Zein went for a spectacular acrobatic back volley from close range.
It was a goal that certainly came against the run of play but made all the difference as the Indians failed to come up with a fitting reply.
Thus India, the bronze medal winners in 2019, finished its campaign without a win.
While the semifinal clash against mighty Iraq ended in a defeat in the tie-breaker after a spirited 2-2 draw in the regulation time that surprised the Asian giants, the third-place battle against Lebanon was lost after the Indians let go of several scoring opportunities.
India tested the rival defence time and again, only to find itself short on decision-making at the goalmouth. Everyone in the attacking line had their share of chances; the Lebanon defence was on their knees at times, only to heave a sigh of relief when the Indians faltered at the front at repeated intervals.
India was not short of ideas in the middle. It created chances – Manvir Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte dashed from both flanks to regularly keep the Lebanon goalkeeper on his toes -- but when the real chances came, the ball either flew over the bar or went wide of the target, much to the dismay of the good number of Indian spectators in the stands.
If this was the story in the first half, then the script hardly changed for the next 45 minutes.
India’s head coach Igor Stimac played all his permutations and combinations in quick succession, but a goal from them remained elusive.
The five changes Stimac made in the second half did give the required impetus to the attack, but when push came to shove, neither Brandon Fernandes nor Rahul KP could do the needful. It was one of those days when the goalmouth remained tightly shut for the Indian forwards.
In the last 10 minutes, India camped itself in the Lebanon area, hoping for the equaliser. But credit to Lebanon, as it not only held on to its lead but made sure India hardly got a clear view of their goal.
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