In a pre-quarterfinal match of the Asian Games 2023, in the men's football competition, Saudi Arabia exhibited their strength, although not their best performance, securing a 2-0 victory over a resilient India. Here's a breakdown of the match:
Saudi Arabia demonstrated their supremacy on the field as forward Mohammed Khalil Marran scored two crucial goals in the 51st and 57th minutes, ultimately ending India's campaign at the continental event, led by Sunil Chhetri.
India's Valiant Effort Despite Challenges
Despite numerous challenges, including uncertainty and the AIFF sending a second-string side due to the obstinate stance of Indian Super League (ISL) organizers in refusing to release top players, Igor Stimac's players delivered a commendable performance.
While victory against Saudi Arabia would have been a miracle, the Indian team, which hadn't even trained together as a cohesive unit, deserves recognition for holding potential gold medal contenders to a goalless draw in the first 45 minutes.
Defensive Resilience but Saudi Superiority
India's defense, led by Sandesh Jhingan, held its shape, but the Saudis ultimately prevailed due to their superior stamina, stronger legs, and advanced skills.
Similar to their previous match against China, India faced a setback just after the 50th minute, but this time, the players were well-rested, preventing a flood of goals.
The First Goal and Panic in Indian Ranks
In the 51st minute, Mohammed Al Abu Shamat delivered a perfect cross from the right flank, allowing Khalil to outmaneuver his marker, Jhingan, with a powerful header, giving Saudi Arabia the lead.
The second goal was scored in five touches, starting with a defense-splitting through pass that freed the former Al Nassr striker on the right side of the penalty box. The sequence concluded with a composed finish into the back of the net, eluding the goalkeeper, Dheeraj Singh.
India's Defensive Effort
To their credit, India's defense did not operate from a deep position, and while they did not have a numerical advantage in the opposition's attacking third, Saudi Arabia could not claim to have had too many scoring opportunities.
Saudi Arabia had one missed opportunity when Musab Al-Juwayr's powerful right-footer struck the horizontal bar in the 22nd minute of the first half. Another close call occurred when Zakaria Hawsawi had a clear look at the goal from close range, but Jhingan's anticipation and positioning averted the danger.