Mumbai: The Blue Tigers who had started their tournament so well, went on to lose two consecutive games to be eliminated from the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Bahrain dominated the match but Indian defence was equal to it by not letting Bahrain’s attack penetrate through it. But a careless tackle by Skipper Pronay Halder inside the box in the last-minute, gave Bahrain a chance to make their way into the quarter-finals. Bahrain’s Jamal Rashed then converted the spot kick and India had their one foot out the door of the tournament.
In other match of the same group, UAE and thailand shared the spoils by scoring a goal each. Meaning that the UAE top the group with 5 points with one win and two draws. Thailand finish second with 4 points thanks to their win over Bahrain with one win, one loss and a draw. Bahrain, by winning the game and finishing on 4 points, have a good opportunity to qualify as a third team from the group.
Four third-placed sides from the six groups of four team each will advance to the knock-out rounds, along with the top two countries. Under the competition rules of the Asian Cup, if two teams end their group stage engagements on equal points, the ranking will be decided first on the basis of head to head result.
A draw against the West Asian side, currently ranked 113, would have been enough for India (ranked 97) to qualify for the round of 16 for the first time in the continent’s showpiece event after failed attempts in 1984 and 2011. And the match at the Sharjah Stadium, was a potentially the biggest night of Indian football and also significant as talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri equalled former captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s record of highest appearances for the country at 107 each.
India had finished runners-up in the 1964 edition in Israel but that tournament was played in a round-robin format comprising four countries with the winners being decided on the basis of points collected in the league. There was not a single knock-out match in that edition. Entering their final group game following a 4-1 win over Thailand and a 0-2 loss to hosts United Arab Emirates, a determined India held on for 90 minutes before conceding.
This was India’s fourth appearance in the continental showpiece, beginning with the 1964 edition, in which only four teams participated. In their next Asian Cup in 1984, India were knocked out in the first round and they suffered a similar fate in 2011, when they lost heavily to Australia, South Korea and Bahrain.
However, the team under coach Stephen Constantine started the tournament with a demolition of Thailand, sounding a warning that it was not here to make up the numbers. They were a shade unlucky against UAE and went down fighting, but looked determined against Bahrain. The Blue Tigers started off shakily after losing defender Anas Edathodika to injury as early as the second minute, but Sandesh Jhingan and his colleagues managed to stave off the Bahrain strikers until the blunder inside the box.