Jamal Rashed’s injury-time penalty handed Bahrain a dramatic 1-0 win over India on Monday night, consequently knocking the Blue Tigers out of the AFC Asian Cup. 

The loss in Sharjah, along with Thailand’s 1-1 draw with UAE, meant India finished at the bottom of the barrel, while the Emiratis and Bahrain qualified as group winners and runners up, respectively.

Having endured a gut-wrenching 2-0 defeat to UAE in their previous match, India were in desperate need for improvement. Their performance against the hosts wasn’t disappointing, per se, but they still needed to be more decisive in front of the opposition goal.

India, to their disappointment, started the match on the back foot, as they failed to contain Bahrain’s explosiveness down the flanks. A plethora of early crosses unsettled the Blues, but their resilience ultimately paid dividends as they slowed down their opponents through non-threatening, yet smart, passes.

After just three minutes of play, India suffered their first blow of the match, losing Anas Edathodika to an excruciating knee injury. Soon after, Bahrain registered their first shot on target through Rashed’s outside-the-box effort. India stopper, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, was up to the task and parried the ball away from danger.

Minutes later, India’s Pritam Kotal tried to trouble the Bahrainis by swinging in a cross, but Ashique Kuruniyan’s tame header – India’s only shot on target in the match – did very little to work the keeper.

Sandesh Jhingan was at his sublime best in the first half and did superbly to stop Mohamed Al Romaihi from getting his shot away.

Courtesy: Sportskeeda

In the second half, Jeje Lalpekhlua was introduced in an ineffective Ashique’s place, but sadly, that couldn’t stop India from succumbing to Bahrain’s relentlessness. Bahrain kept on piling men forward and forced Jhingan and Sandhu into action. At the halfway point in the second half, The Reds were denied by a whisker, as substitute Marhoon’s effort rattled the post.

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A blasphemous decision from the referee awarded Bahrain an indirect free-kick for a perceived back pass from Indian defender, Subhasish. The Blues, despite being hard done by the decision, defended the set-piece well and denied Bahrain from scoring.

Tragedy, inevitably, struck in the added injury time, as a moment of madness from India captain Pronay Halder saw the Blue Tigers get penalized. Jamal Rashed stepped up to the plate and dispatched a convincing penalty, crushing India’s AFC Asian Cup aspiration for good.

Talking Points

A Convincing Bahrain Display

Having picked up only a single point from their first two matches, Bahrain knew they had to beat India to earn themselves a chance to feature in the knockouts. They came out determined and fearless and didn’t waste a single minute standing on ceremony. Bahrain started on the front foot, maintained the tempo right until the final whistle, and deservedly walked away with all three points.

Chhetri No Show, Again

Yes, India have probably become overly dependent on their record goalscorer, Sunil Chhetri, but the weight of expectations shouldn’t bring down a player of Chhetri’s calibre. After missing a good number of opportunities against UAE, Chhetri needed to be at his sharpest against Bahrain; but the Bengaluru FC man, once again, failed to deliver on his promises, and couldn’t register even a single shot on target.

Constantine’s Tactics

After two tactically immaculate games, India coach, Stephen Constantine, failed to bring his ‘A game’ in one of the most important matches in the history of Indian football. His team did not seem interested in playing football and only focused on hoofing the ball away from danger. The Blue Tigers gifted the Bahraini defenders a very comfortable night, and, honestly, deserved to come away empty-handed.

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