The 2008 AFC Challenge Cup winners stumble at the first hurdle as they fail to beat Tajikistan who triumph over them by a two goal margin...
Both the goals were scored in the second half, Akhtam Khamrakulov (60') taking advantage of a defensive lapse, while Nuriddin Davronov's strike went past Karanjit Singh just six minutes later to double the pain for India. India had no answer after conceding the two quick fire goals and succumbed to a 0-2 defeat in their first match in the Challenge Cup 2012.
Savio Medeira decided to start with Sushil Singh upfront alongside skipper Sunil Chhetri. Meanwhile Rocus Lamare and Adil Khan made India's central midfield. Samir Naik played as right full back with Syed Rahim Nabi on the other side. The central defense pairing from the last friendly was retained with Raju Gaikwad partnering Gouramangi Moirangthem.
Tajikistan also played two up front with Nuriddin Davronov being partnered by Jakhongir Jalilov. Influential midfielder Mahmadali Sodikov was playing at the heart of the midfield to provide the creative spark.
Kemal Alispahić's side started off the brighter of the two teams, as they had a clutch of chances starting from the very beginning. Although the Indian team tried to press hard and close down the gaps, the Central Asians had no problem in neatly passing the ball and maintaining possession effortlessly.
In the first ten minutes itself, they had not less than four shots, with Gouramangi Moirangthem blocking two and Karanjit saving one besides a fierce 30 yard drive by Sodikov which sailed wide.
It took the Blue Tigers all of fifteen minutes to get a glimpse of goal, as Sunil Chhetri had darted in from the left but his shot was aimless. Just two minutes later though the snapshot from Rocus Lamare, after Francis Fernandes had pulled it back for him, needed an alert Alisher Tuychiev in goal to keep out.
An onrushing Anthony Pereira had the best chance to put India ahead when he sent the ball into the orbit after Chhetri had done well to find him in space.
On the half hour mark, India who had so far seen very little of the ball, began to up the ante. They began to slowly but steadily change the possession stats in their favour. Sunil Chhetri had a decent chance after he received the ball from Sushil Singh, but his shot was high and wide.
It was all India in the last five minutes of the half though. First, Sunil Chhetri was almost through if not for impressive work by Alisher Tuychiev who came out of his line to gather the ball. It was Rocus Lamare again in the thick of things just as the referee was about to blow the whistle, as his shot just went over the bar, after a Sushil Singh pass.
India started the better of the two sides in the second half continuing their good work from the first. In the 58th minute Sunil Chhetri almost got on the end of a Anthony Pereira cross which just evaded the diminutive striker.
However just three minutes later, it was the Persian Lions who grabbed the lead just when India were looking dangerous. Akhtam Khamrakulov disposed off the chance easily after the cross from the left was played into his path unwillingly by a clueless Nabi.
The goal seemed to suck out whatever resistance India had to offer. The midfield was slow and failed to hold onto the ball. Even when they had the ball, they failed to string passes together with the passing literally all over the place.
Infact just minutes later, it was last ditch goal line clearance by Gouramangi which kept his side from being further behind as Alexei Negmatov's shot had Karanjit well beaten. But the joy would not last long as in the 66th minute, as Nuriddin Davronov fired a wonderful shot past a diving Karanjit who had no chance and India were two goals down before they knew what had hit them.
Savio, bringing on the energetic and lively Jewel Raja for the frankly disappointing Anthony Pereira, in the hopes of sparking a comeback too did not work as the Blue Tigers were outplayed in almost every department.
Sodikov had been absolutely wonderful in midfield for the Lions as time and again he has the won the ball for his team and launched one attack after another.
It could have been worse for India in the 72nd minute as Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev's free-kick from the edge of the box almost creeped in after being deflected off the wall.
In the final ten minutes though, India had a slight glimmer of a comeback but poor finishing meant that nothing came to fruition. First Chhetri wasted a freekick from 35 yards by not even testing the goalkeeper and going for glory. Substitute Joaquim Abranches' fierce right footer was palmed away for a corner by the Tajikistan goalie in what was the best attempt on goal by an Indian player in the match.
In fact two minutes from time, Tthe Persian Lions could have heaped further misery on Savio Medeira's side as substitue Dilshod Vasiev's right foot piledriver from outside the box was kept out somehow by Karanjit Singh.
With the capitulation and abject display by India's midfield Savio will have to change it around, if India want to win their next game and harbour hopes of progression.
Kemal Alispahić's side meanwhile have got their revenge over the Blue Tigers after they lost the 2008 Challenge Cup final in India. The coach will also be happy with the Central Asian side's performance in the match.
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