Bereft of ideas, a lacklustre Indian football team’s woes were compounded by its defensive lapses, resulting in a 0-3 drubbing by a dominant Uzbekistan in the AFC Asian Cup on Thursday. This is India’s second successive defeat in Group B, having started their campaign with a 0-2 loss to title contenders Australia, in which their spirited performance earned them plaudits. However, against the central Asian nation at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, India’s performance was a far cry from their display against the Socceroos, a FIFA World Cup regular. Uzbekistan scored through Abbosbek Fayzullaev (4th minute), Igor Sergeev (18th) and Nasrullaev (45 3) to register their first win in the competition after being held to a stalemate by Syria in their tournament opener.
Hoping to start on a positive note barely days after their promising show against Australia, India, instead, found themselves on the backfoot straightaway and conceded a rather soft goal early on.
The lightning quick Fayzullaev, placed in a favourable position, found the target with a header past the hapless Gurpreet Singh Sandhu after Shukurov headed the ball towards him from a Nasrullaev cross taken at the edge of the Indian penalty area.
Ranked 102 in the world as against their 68-ranked opponents, Igor Stimac’s men found the going tough as Uzbekistan looked to rattle the Indian defence with their attacking play.
Unlike the match against Australia, the Indians could not prevent Uzbekistan from splitting their defence wide open in the early part.
In a mood to stamp their authority further, Uzbekistan again benefitted from sloppy defending from their opponents.
Rahul Bheke gave the ball away in the halfway line. Akash Mishra managed to touch the ball but his clearance hit the post before returning to the field of play, and Sergeev did the rest to put his side 2-0 ahead.
Even as the Indians looked to bounce back, there was no letup in Uzbekistan’s intensity as they struck their third goal just before the half-time, with Nasrullaev scoring from the rebound as the Indian defence failed to respond to the situation.
Uzbekistan began the second-half with a comfortable cushion and the Blue Tigers needed a miracle to stage a comeback. But all they could do was to avoid a bigger margin of defeat and leave the field a dejected lot.
The damage was inflicted in the first half itself and what did not help the Indians was their ultra defensive tactics which aided their physically stronger and superior rivals. It meant less attacking nous from India.
Lallianzuala Chhangte started on the bench for India, paving the way for Naorem Mahesh Singh, while Anirudh Thapa was included in place of Deepak Tangri. Akash Mishra was brought in for Subhashish Bose.
India will play their final group match against Syria on January 23. PTI AH UNG
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