A wasteful India succumbed to a 2-0 defeat against hosts, the United Arab Emirates, in their second league match of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Thursday night. 

Two well-taken goals from Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Ahmed Mabkhout, on either side of half-time, sealed the win for the hosts against India, who were fortunate to come out with a clean sheet.

India, fueled by the confidence from the emphatic 4-1 win over Thailand, started the game on the front foot. Their ambition was rewarded early on when they came agonizingly close to converting from a well-worked corner. Sandip Jhingan outleapt all UAE defenders to meet the ball but failed to keep his effort on target.

Also Read: Thailand 1-4 India

The Men in Blue kept piling bodies forward and carved out another juicy opportunity moments after. This time, Sunil Chhetri‘s inch-perfect pass sent Ashique Kuruniyan through on goal. The young forward, however, failed to keep his composure and hit the ball straight at UAE shot-stopper, Khalid Essa, who safely parried the ball away for a corner.

Having missed a golden opportunity minutes earlier, Ashique Kuruniyan, tried to make amends by orchestrating a brilliant passage of play. His neat pass found Udanta Singh on the right, who, after some neat footwork, found Anirudh Thapa just at the edge of the area. Thapa’s immaculate curling-cross located his captain, Sunil Chhetri, inside the box. The 34-year-old, uncharacteristically, could only direct his header straight at the Emirati keeper, squandering India’s second golden opportunity on the night.

Following a spell of relentless pressure, India took their foot off the pedal, which allowed the hosts to land a sucker punch. A defensive howler from Anas Edathodika wrong-footed the entire Indian defense, leaving Gurpreet Singh Sandhu helpless as he saw Mubarak’s effort flow past him.

Jeje Lalpekhlua was introduced in the second half to give India an edge going forward. The trick nearly paid off moments later when a deflected free-kick fell to Jeje just outside the area, and his volley missed the goal by only a whisker. A couple of minutes later, a quick one-two between Chhetri and Udanta split the UAE defense, but the young winger’s effort was ultimately saved by the crossbar.

Finally, in the 88th minute, UAE killed the game thanks to Mabkhout’s commendable composure, who left Pritam Kotal for dead before slotting it past Sandhu.

Talking Points

Night to Forget for Chhetri

Following his brace against Thailand, many had expected Sunil Chhetri to produce yet another memorable performance. Against the strongest team in their group, the Indian skipper struggled to make his mark and was quite mediocre in front of goal. On any other day, Chhetri would’ve taken the match ball home, but unfortunately, last night was just wasn’t meant to be his.

Lapse of Concentration

Since kick-off, India did their best to keep the pressure on their lofty rivals. Thanks to India’s pacy and skillful forwards, UAE were getting pushed back time and again, but one dip in concentration still ended up costing them the tie. Anas Edathodika will have to take the blame for UAE’s opener, but the rest of the Indian defense, too, didn’t do anything to help the Kerala Blaster man out.

Qualification Still Possible

Following the win, and having picked up 4 points from the opening two games, UAE moved to the top of the Group A table, pushing India down to the second position. Earlier in the day, Thailand picked up a narrow 1-0 win over Bahrain to climb up to third. India, who have three points and a +1 goal difference, need at least a draw against Bahrain and hope that UAE manage to beat Thailand.

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