India’s Asia Cup 2019 Campaign

India, ranked 97th in the world, were the second highest ranked team in the Group A, after UAE. Thailand and Bahrain were the other teams in that group. This was the fourth time India have been able to reach the finals, and the first since 2011.

Their first match was against Thailand, ranked 118th in the world. Despite a very shoddy first half display, they were lucky enough to take the lead against dominant Thai side, through a Sunil Chhetri penalty in the 27th minute. The Thais quickly equalised, within six minutes, after Bunmathan made amends for his hand ball which led to the penalty kick, as he delivered a pinpoint free-kick into the box, which was headed into the net by the Indian captain Teerasil Dandga. Chhetri helped India regain the lead in the 46th minute, as he finished off a move that he had started, after an Udanta cross from the right. Udanta again was the creator for India’s third goal in the 68th minute, which was finished by Anirudh Thapa. Jeje, who came on as a substitute, made it 4-1 for India, as he scored a left-footed stunner. The win was the first for them in the Asia Cup since 1964. Chhetri’s second goal in the match took him above Lionel Messi in the international goal-scoring charts!

The win meant that India would progress even if they manage to secure two draws in the remaining two matches.

However, against the stronger UAE, India weren’t able to impress much. They lost 2-0 in front of the buzzing UAE crowd who were rooting for the hosts. Khalfan Mubarak Al Shamsi scored the first goal in the 42nd minute; that helped UAE to take the much needed lead. India tried to equalise but were let down by their poor finishing, although they kept creating chances. Mabkhout doubled the lead in the 89th minute, destroying any hopes the Indians might have had.

Against Bahrain too, Indians looked rather shaky, as if the pressure to qualify had gotten to them. They needed a draw to ensure qualification, provided Thailand lost to UAE.  However, it was Bahrain who seemed to be the more dominant side, and came awfully close a couple of times. Indians just weren’t able to carve out any decent chance and spent most of the match defending in their own half. The fortune ultimately favoured the brave Bahrain side, as India conceded a penalty in the 90th minute, after captain Pranoy Halder pushed and tugged at a Bahrain player inside the box. Jamal Rashid beat Gurpreet from the spot, that ensured India finished bottom of group A, despite a fiery start to the tournament.

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