India’s campaign in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 came to an end when they went down to Syria 0-1 in their third and concluding Group B match on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.
In another match in the same group played simultaneously, Australia and Uzbekistan remained locked in a 1-1 draw. While Australia finished on top with seven points, Uzbekistan and Syria are placed second and third with five and four points, respectively, India ended at the bottom of the table without a point. The top teams in the group have qualified for the next round.
In a passionately contested match at the retractable Al Byat Stadium, India’s spirited resistance was finally broken in the 76th minute, with substitute Omar Khirbin slotting the ball home past a diving Gupreet Singh Sandhu, who till then looked unbeatable under the bar. The tall and experienced custodian was being stretched too much throughout the tie; he made innumerable saves only to find himself a trifle late in reacting to Omar’s low drive from close range.
Repeated Syrian onslaughts kept Sandhu busy under the bar all through the 90 minutes and he definitely rose to the occasion to affect a series of saves to keep India in the match. In the first 20 minutes, he was prompt enough to palm away a Pablo Sabbag stinging attempt and then he thwarted a quick-footed Amar Ramadan. The second half was no different, as the Syrians kept on pressing for a goal only to find Gurpreet not ready to yield.
Overall, it was a fiercely fought affair, with neither team ready to concede an inch without a battle. If the Syrians were desperate for three points to keep alive their second-round hopes, the Blue Tigers, without a point from their last two matches, were in no mood to accept a similar result once again. The Syrians turned increasingly physical as the tie progressed. India were not exactly reluctant to match them on the same tactics.
The first half was evenly balanced, though slightly tilted towards the Syrians because of their ability to penetrate more. The Indians played boldly in the midfield; it resulted in a few attacks from Chhetri and Manvir, who could stretch the Syrian defence considerably. Chhangte too joined the show, with occasional centres from the flanks. Syrians, on the other hand, looked dangerous on more than one occasion with their forwards doing everything to clinch an early lead.
The Blue Tigers, who lost their earlier two matches to Australia (0-2) and Uzbekistan (0-3), surprised everyone with their courage and conviction. The Indian defenders matched every vicious tackle with an equal amount of determination and self-confidence, which often had their rivals on the backfoot. The Indians showcased their skills with as much robust display and played absolutely forthright football right from the beginning.
India were not ready to concede defeat, even after they fell into arrears. They pressed so hard that the Syria coach could be spotted calling the attention of the referee while trying to point out that the add-on time was already over. The result could have been different for them had skipper Chhetri and other strikers availed themselves of the chances that came their way, but it was not to be.
India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan (Nikhil Poojary 47’), Subhasish Bose, Akash Mishra, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Lalengmawia Apuia (Anirudh Thapa 81’), Deepak Tangri (Sahal Abdul Samad 64’), Mahesh Singh Naorem (Udanta Singh 46’), Manvir Singh (Suresh Wangjam 64’), Sunil ChhChhetri.