FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: India robbed of chance to script history, lose 1-2 to Qatar

PTI, Jun 12, 2024, 9:10 AM IST

Doha: Poor refereeing robbed India of a chance to secure a historic entry into the third round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers as Asian champions Qatar rode on a controversial goal to emerge 2-1 winners here on Tuesday.

India were ahead thanks to Lallianzuala Chhangte’s 37th minute goal but disaster struck when the referee adjudged Yousef Aymen’s 73rd minute equaliser as fair after the ball appeared to have gone out of play.

The controversial decision turned the game on its head as Qatar scored their second through Ahmed Al-Rawi in the 85th minute.

This was after the Indians came within touching distance of scripting history after going 1-0 at half time, with Kuwait and Afghanistan goalless in the day’s other match.

But the Indian dream lay shattered in a space of few minutes in the second half courtesy the controversial goal by Aymen and the ensuing strike by Al-Rawi.

Meanwhile, Eid Al-Rashidi struck the winner for Kuwait in the 81st minute. Qatar and Kuwait thus progressed to the second round.

Earlier, playing barely five days after the international retirement of arguably the country’s greatest footballer Sunil Chhetri, not many gave the beleaguered 121-ranked India side a chance.

But Igor Stimac’s wards turned the tables in style and looked on course after Chhangte’s strike.

Chhangte, the 27-year-old winger from Mizoram’s Lunglei, struck the ball accurately into the bottom corner after a diagonal pass from Brandon Fernandes.

Having received the ball, he made no mistake in outsmarting his marker and broke the deadlock to silence the backers of the fancied hosts at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.

It was redemption of sorts for Chhangte as he found the back of the net after failing to convert two chances created by Brandon.

The strike also made Chhangte India’s highest-scoring active player with eight goals.

A good number of Indian supporters also made their way into the venue and at times outperformed the home crowd when it came to cheering after Chhangte’s strike.

After weathering an initial wave of attacks from Qatar when the day’s skipper and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu pulled off a couple of crucial saves, India, without Chhetri after many years, began to put pressure on their hosts.

Mehtab Singh also played his part, making a goal-line block off a shot by Ahmed Alrawi, to keep India in the hunt early on.

As the first half wore on, India’s three forwards, Rahim Ali, Chhangte, and Manvir Singh, along with midfielders Fernandes, Jeakson Singh, and Suresh Wangjam formed a six-man press that launched attacks in waves and did not allow the Qatar defenders to settle on the ball in their own half.

Jeakson played Rahim through behind the Qatar defence in the 25th minute, and the latter sprinted into the box and drove it hard and low across the goal, but the cross evaded the onrushing Chhangte and Manvir.

Almost immediately, Manvir was played through in the 31st minute and just had the keeper to beat, but his effort was parried away.

Chhangte intercepted a pass in the Qatar third, played a one-two with Brandon and squared it to Rahim, who was just a yard short of the pass.

The Qatar defence looked shaken and the Indians were there to capitalise on it. Chhangte opened the scoring.

Jay Gupta, after a one-two with Jeakson on the left flank, played it back to Brandon, who found the perfect weight on his through pass to Chhangte. The nifty winger coolly finished it at the near post.

The momentum completely changed in the second half. India were no longer employing their six-man press as they remained content with a mid-block instead.

Qatar were looking to work the half-space channels, and Alrawi, the recipient of a second cut-back had his shot blocked again by Mehtab.

Sahal Abdul Samad and Liston Colaco, who had replaced Fernandes and Rahim, almost created that chance. Prowling on the counter, Sahal jinked past his marker and set Liston through, but the latter was just inches offside.

Qatar struck back with a little over 15 minutes of regulation time left, as Ayman turned in a cut-back from point-blank range. The Indian players vehemently protested the decision, claiming that the ball had already gone out of play before the goal was scored, but the referee did not budge.

Jay caused some stir down the left in the 82nd, but a poor touch meant that the Qatar keeper stepped out and parried it off his feet. Liston had a chance to score from the rebound, but his shot was deflected before being collected.

Alrawi broke Indian hearts again when he curled it from outside the box and into the bottom corner past a flailing Gurpreet.

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