India U-23 conceded defeat in their second straight 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifier, after failing to get the better of a strong Qatar U-23 outfit at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. Although the defeat has dimmed India's chances for qualification for the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship finals, the Colts fought hard and displayed promising signs for the future.
In an exciting tactical battle that ended 1-0, Qatar's striker Almoez Ali scored the only goal of the game after Colts custodian Vishal Kaith lost control of the ball to show the striker an empty net.
Coach Stephen Constantine rang the changes to his side after a disappointing defeat against Syria in the first game. Youngster Lallianzuala Chhangte and Alan Deory were among those who came in to energise the team.
The changes seemed to re-vitalize the team after the stuttering start against Syria, as the Colts kicked off the match in fine fashion. The players pressed their opponents as a team and were able to force Qatar into some early errors.
The positive start however, did not result in clear-cut chances. Nandhakumar slashed a volley wide of the post in the 24th minute to register India's only meaningful shot at goal before the 30-minute mark.
Qatar's midfielder Ahmed Saadi ran the show for his team, getting to the end of a fine cross into the box to force the goalkeeper Vishal Kaith into a decent save before trying to set his team-mate up with a defence-splitting through ball that was cleared away from danger by the Indian defence.
Unable to find answers to the Qatar no.14's quick feet and vision, India's no.14 Chhangte slid into a bad tackle to stop him from driving at the Colts defence and thus became the first Indian player to go into the referee's book.
Qatar's quality in possession and retention began to show as both sides started to demand the ball at their feet but neither could find the opening goal before half-time.
Qatar struck the opening blow soon after restart, in the 54th minute. A long ball from deep was flicked onto the path of forward Almoez Ali and despite Kaith getting to the ball before the striker, the goalkeeper lost control of the ball and allowed the striker to calmly slot the ball into an empty net.
India stuck to their plan of delivering balls into the box from deep and one such attempt freed Anirudh Thapa inside the box but before the striker could flick the ball to his team-mate, he was ruled offside by the linesman. Replays showed that it was a very close call.
Most of Qatar's raid in the second half came down India's left flank, where Jerry Lalrinzuala faced a torrid time in defence. Without adequate support, the Mizoram-born full back failed to control his marker's marauding runs time and again.
A swift passing move by India in the 74th minute released Chhangte down the left flank but Qatar's defenders were quick to sense the danger and clear the ball into the stands.
With 15 minutes to go, India raised the tempo of the game and started piling pressure on Qatar defence. The Colts came agonizingly close in the 79th minute, as a pin-point cross by Chhangte from the left found the feet of substitute Manvir Singh. His thunderous attempt at goal shook the crossbar and a slighly more difficult chance off the rebound was headed over the bar. It was India's best chance of the match.
Anirudh Thapa sent the ball over the goal just before the final whistle as India went down fighting against a well polished Qatar U-23 side.