India’s coach Igor Stimac had urged his players to play without fear, but all he got was ‘silly mistakes’ as the Blue Tigers slumped to their second successive loss at the Asian Cup on Thursday.
Uzbekistan romped to a routine 3-0 win on the night and were too good for India, who have miles to go before they can go up against Asia’s best. The 38,000 crowd at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, mainly made up of Indian expatriates, had barely settled into their seats when India went behind after some lacklustre defending in the fourth minute.
What followed was more clueless defending from the men in blue as Uzbekistan added two more goals without much sweat before half time to kill the contest. Uzbekistan, who extended their unbeaten record over India to seven games – their fifth in a row against the south Asian side, will only need a draw against already-qualified Australia on Tuesday to enter the last 16.
For India, they need to beat Syria on Tuesday and require a host of other results to go in their favour, for a chance to qualify for the round of 16 as one of the third-best placed teams among all groups. And that will be nothing short of a miracle for those who witnessed India’s two matches in Qatar, including their 0-2 loss to Australia in the opener.
“If we take the goals out of the game – which were caused by silly mistakes – I could be happy with the performance,” said India coach Stimac. After the Australia game, Stimac had wanted his players to adopt an aggressive approach against Uzbekistan.
But in their pursuit of aggression against 68th-ranked Uzbekistan, the 102nd-ranked India forgot how to defend on Thursday and now sit bottom of the group with zero points and no goals. Stimac left out Lallianzuala Chhangte, who was one of the few bright spots against Aussies, after he felt discomfort in his groin two days ago paving the way for Mahesh Naorem Singh. Anirudh Thapa was also included in place of Deepak Tangri, while Akash Mishra was brought in for Subhashish Bose.
But India were on the back foot straight away after the defenders were caught napping and failed to react to a slow lopping ball from Otabek Shukurov. But Abbosbek Fayzullaev, the 20-year-old CSKA Moscow winger, was alert inside the box as he looped a header over goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The second goal came 14 minutes later, with more chaotic defending from India as a sliding Sandesh Jhingan unintentionally chipped the ball against his own crossbar, allowing Igor Sergeev to capitalise on the rebound. Any hopes of an Indian comeback were dashed during first-half stoppage time when Sherzod Nasrullaev took advantage of static India defending to score the third goal.
India had their moments in both halves but lacked the conviction to find the back of the net. Winger Rahul K P, who came in at the start of second half, struck the crossbar while skipper Sunil Chhetri failed to even guide a couple of golden opportunities towards the goal.
Mahesh Naorem also tried his luck from outside the box but Uzbek goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov had little trouble in blocking it.
While Indians huffed and puffed to create scoring opportunities, Uzbeks rarely had to raise their game. Stimac replaced veteran striker Chhetri, who toiled to no avail, with 20 minutes remaining as India failed to threaten their rivals.
Fayzullaev, named player of the tournament as Uzbekistan won the under-20s Asian Cup on home soil last year, said they had nothing to fear against Australia in their final group game.
The Socceroos are already into the last 16 thanks to a 1-0 win over Syria. “Australia may be favourites, but this game is 11 versus 11,” he said. “I don’t think we are an inferior team to Australia because I have full confidence in our guys.”