The Men in Blue managed to earn a draw against the West Asians but that wasn't enough in the end...
Trailing 3-0 from the away leg in Abu Dhabi last week, India managed to halt the Arab nation from registering another victory by scoring two goals in the final quarter of the game to end the match 2-2 at the Ambedkar Stadium, Delhi. Back in 2007 for the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers, India had managed to come up with a similar performance in the home leg against Lebanon in Goa which ended in a 2-2 draw.
Goals from Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gouramangi Moirangthem cancelled those scored by UAE’s Al Shehhi and Al Wehaibi to end the home leg in a draw on Thursday evening.
The Indian line-up saw the inclusion of Clifford Miranda and Karanjit Singh for the suspended duo of Debabrata Roy and Subrata Paul. Meanwhile UAE made one change to their starting eleven with Khalid Sebil coming in place of Mohammed Ahmed Gharib.
The home side started with a 4-4-2 while the visitors were content with their 4-4-1-1 formation.
The heavy rainfall saw a waterlogged pitch and once again highlighted the poor infrastructure India have for football with almost no drainage facilities available. The opening exchanges of the game drew laughter given that neither of the two teams could come to terms with the conditions though the home side did manage to adapt sooner.
The passes weren’t completed as the ball would stop mid-way due to the heavy field while on one occasion UAE goalkeeper Ali Khasif’s clearance, which would under normal circumstances see the ball go out of play, failed to clear which allowed Jeje Lalpekhlua to regain possession!
Steven Dias was the first to test the UAE custodian in the eighth minute after Jeje flicked the ball for Sunil Chhetri who returned it back to his strike partner, following which the Mizoram centre-forward released the right winger to see Dias’ shot being blocked by Khasif.
Samir Naik was once again the guilty party by conceding the free-kick in the danger area as Ahmad Khalil’s attempt saw goalkeeper Karanjit Singh palm the ball away for a corner eight minutes later.
India too had a decent opportunity when Khalid Sebil handled the ball just outside the area but Steven Dias’ curling shot went over the bar; leaving the UAE custodian untroubled.
At the half hour mark, Mehtab Hussain won the ball from Abdul Rehman and kicked the ball in the other half for Chhetri who managed to get around Ismail Hamdan only to see Ali Khasif come off his line to avert the danger.
The visitors did manage to open the scoring eventually, five minutes from half-time whistle, as Al Shehhi headed home from inside the box from an Ahmad Khalil cross from the left with four Indian shirts around.
The closing stages of the first session saw Abdul Rehman missing an opportunity from handshaking distance as he sent the ball into the orbit from an Ahmad Khalil cross.
After the break, the first chance befell Srecko Katenec’s side as Al Wehaibi’s cross saw Ahmad Khalil almost get to the end of it had it not been for a crucial tackle by Samir Naik inside the box.
While at the other end, Ismail Hammadi helped out his defence by not allowing Jeje’s ball for Steven Dias to get to him.
Colaco replaced Dias with Lalrindika Ralte and the youngster looked lively in his time on the pitch.
However India were dealt a massive blow with skipper Al Wehaibi slamming home from inside the area to give Karanjit Singh no chance to stop in the 71st minute.
Three minutes later, Lalrindika showed how to best play on a waterlogged pitch by sending a cross from the right to see Jeje put his head to good use. The goal gave India the much needed confidence which they clearly lacked for most parts.
It was in the injury time of the second half that India scored from a goalmouth melee with Gouramangi Moirangthem doing the needful to make it 2-2.
The match ended with the same scoreline which ended India’s hopes as they now have to wait for another four years before embarking on a similar journey.
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