India ends campaign with another loss

The three points saw Turkmenistan stay in third spot at the end of the second round in the five-team Group ‘D’ while India finished at the bottom with three points from eight games.

The Turkmenistan players celebrate their opening goal in the World Cup qualifier against India scored by Arslan Amanov (7).   -  H. Vibhu

A shocking penalty miss by the Turkmenistan captain and an early Indian goal. It appeared to be India’s day in the FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday. But in the end, it was Turkmenistan which walked away a 2-1 winner, a repeat of the result in the previous encounter between the two at Ashgabat in October.

Though Turkmenistan is ranked way above India’s 160 at 113 in the FIFA world rankings, the side here was not its best. With its chances of qualifying for the World Cup qualifiers’ next phase over, the visiting side had left eight of its leading players back home and it showed in the opening session of its game in the hot and humid conditions.

Turkmenistan, which took time to settle down to the sweaty conditions here, could have easily taken the lead in the 20th minute when it earned a penalty after defender Pritam Kotal brought down captain Amanov Arslan inside the box. But Arslan missed, shooting wide.

BIG ROAR MISSING

India took the lead a few minutes after that, Sandesh Jhingan heading in a Narayan Das free-kick but with less than a thousand fans at the stadium, the big roar which one had heard often during the ISL games was clearly missing.

A little after the half hour mark, Rowlin failed to connect a lovely aerial pass from the young Udanta Singh, who looked enterprising on the right while Pronay Halder was the midfield general, stitching together some nice moves.

JEJE KEPT ON A TIGHT LEASH

Meanwhile, the home captain and forward Jeje, who had scored for India in the away game in October, was kept on a tight leash by the Turkmenistan defenders Babajanov Zafar and Saparov Mekan.

The home side and its goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh suffered a few anxious moments just before the break when Astanov’s curling long-ranger appeared to be on target before just going over.

The visitor struck the equaliser soon after the break and this was a session when it came up with a bit of a strategy change. Captain Arslan made amends for the missed penalty and headed in Durdiyev Didar’s perfect cross. Goalkeeper Gurpreet, who was out of position, could do nothing.

The Turkmens had been trying to break in through the right for a good part of the first half and the equaliser saw them come out stronger. They appeared faster and now there were a number of dangerous moves through the centre but still, did not end in goals. One such move saw Pritam Kotal denying Arslan smartly.

SUPER-SUB SERDARALI’S SPECIAL

Substitute Atayev Serdarali, who had come in for Orazov Suleyman at the start of the second half, gave the visiting side the lead. As he made his into the box, goalkeeper Gurpreet rushed out to deny him. But Atayev waited for a second, as the goalkeeper virtually froze, before tapping in an angled shot.

Substitute Seityasen Singh raised hopes in the home camp around the 80th minute with a long-ranger from the right that appeared to dip in dangerously but goalkeeper Orazmuhamedov Mamed tipped away the danger.

Towards the end, Abylov Guvanch beat Augustin and Narayan Das smartly and raced into the box through the centre but he could not finish it.

The three points saw Turkmenistan stay in third spot at the end of the second round in the five-team Group ‘D’ while India finished at the bottom with three points from eight games.

POOR SHOW, SAYS CONSTANTINE

Stephen Constantine, the Indian head coach, was disappointed with India’s performance in the World Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan. “A very poor performance. We didn’t do ourselves justice. It was a game we wanted to win, but in the end we deserved to lose,” he said.

Maintaining possession seemed an impossible task for the Indian team, even at the pedestrian pace at which it played.

“Our stats suggest that a player gave away the ball 17 times. You cannot do that at any level, and here we are playing at the international level,” said Constantine.

He felt playing Sunil Chhetri would have been risky. “I could have played him for 15 to 20 minutes but then he might be out for the next six months.”

Though Constantine sounded unhappy with all his players, the Englishman chose to defend his goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh who appeared shaky today. “I don’t fault him. We gave the ball away cheaply…I’m thinking maybe we cannot cope with two games in a week,” he said. India had played Iran in Tehran on Thursday.

Meanwhile the visiting coach Amangylyç Koçumow said his team did well despite the extremely humid conditions.

Result: Turkmenistan 2 (Amanov Arslan 49, Atayev Serdarali 70) bt India 1 (Sandesh Jhingan 26).