The Indian National Team lost by a solitary goal against Bahrain at the Sharjah Stadium in UAE to finish bottom of Group A with three points, crashing out of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Jamal Rashed’s 91st-minute penalty broke Indian hearts as the opponents ran out eventual winners, after a solid defensive performance from Constantine’s men.
In a nervous start for the Blue Tigers, Anas succumbed to injury in the opening minutes and was replaced by Salam Ranjan Singh. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s goal was threatened and he was called into action as early as the 5th minute when he pulled off an uncanny save off Komail’s shot from outside the box.
With Bahrain literally keeping possession for the first ten minutes, India’s first chance came in the 13th when Pritam Kotal released a cross for Ashique Kuruniyan, whose header was blocked by the opposition defence. Halicharan Nazary’s 22ndminute shot added to India’s shot tally but hit the side-netting.
The 28th minute saw some exquisite passing by India in Bahrain’s box. Pronay Halder found Halicharan on the wings, who dribbled in and laid one for Sunil Chhetri lurking in the box. Last ditch tackle from Bahrain’s defence blanked Chhetri as he was attempting to shoot on goal from less than 10 yards.
With Bahrain having the lion’s share of possession, the Blue Tigers defended with their lives, with Sandesh Jhingan marshalling the backline. The Indian midfield, compact, came back to help the backline, hence allowing Bahrain shots from distance.
Though Bahrain penetrated into the Indian box, the opponents did not create any serious trouble that Sandesh and his line could not deal with. Even skipper Pronay Halder made a goalline clearance in the dying embers of the first half to keep Bahrain at bay.
Coach Constantine added more spark in the attack with the introduction of Jeje Lalpekhlua at the half-way point, replacing Ashique Kuruniyan. But it still was the defensive performances of Pronay Halder and Sandesh Jhingan that provided the forwards cover and thwarted the opposition attacks.
In the 60th minute, Sandesh Jhingan made a sliding tackle to deny an open goal tap-in to Bahrain forwards after a cross from the Indian right flank went unchecked.
A few minutes later, Udanta Singh got into the thick of defensive action and made a sensational tackle in the Indian box to rob the opponents of possession. Minutes before, he was brought down around the Bahrain box and the resulting free-kick was sent over the bar by Sunil Chhetri.
In the 73rd minute, Bahrain got an indirect free-kick inside the box after Gurpreet had collected a back pass but the Indian defence line saw out the free-kick, flinging bodies to keep the ball out of the goal.
The India custodian pulled off a world-class save in the 83rd minute to deny Bahrain from a close-range header, following a corner kick, and Pritam Kotal blocked the resulting shot.
Jamal Rashed scored from the spot in the dying embers of the game to hand Bahrain a last gasp win after Pronay Halder brought Hamad Al Shamsan down in the box.