India U-16 fought till the very end of the game to earn a 3-3 draw in their second fixture of the AFC U-16 Championships, on Sunday. The result meant India still have a hope to progress to the semi-finals to earn a place in next year's world cup by merit.
Nicolai Adam's side began on the front foot, making inroads into the Saudi defense right away and their sparkling start reaped early rewards as Aniket Jadhav's left-footed finish made it 1-0 in the fourth minute.
Saudi never got into their stride in the first 25 minutes and as a result they could not manufacture any clear-cut chances in that time frame. India added further damage to the visitors on top of their lack of creativity by doubling their lead in the 23rd min courtesy of Aman Chetri tap-in finish. Boris Thangjam, who impressed in India's opening fixture with the assist.
Saudi Arabia picked themselves up and began to pass the ball around with much more conviction and as a result, they pulled one back in the 34th minute courtesy of a textbook header by Aldhuwayhi - the exact kind of goal that India have been conceding.
The visitors earned a penalty in the dying seconds of the first half but India's no.1, Dheeraj Singh saved Mali's spot-kick to keep the home side in the hunt. This was Dheeraj's second penalty save in as many games. The penalty save ensured India walked into the break as the happier side.
In an attempt to fortify India's defense and control the game a little more, Nicolai Adam brought on two midfielders in Khumanthem and Lalengmawia for both goalscorers, Aman Chetri and Aniket Jadhav and the move paid only short term dividends as India would find out.
They looked compact for majority of the second-half and apart from a few minor hiccups the team carried out their defensive responsibilities with efficiency.
The home side missed a golden opportunity to seal the deal in the 80th minute when Boris Thangjam was sent in the clear and only had the goalie to beat, but his shot lacked direction - India would go on to rue the missed chance.
Saudi equalized in the next minute through Albrikan's tap-in finish from a corner. In the next move itself they the visitors were in the lead courtesy of Aldhuwayhi's exquisite back-heel finish.
Team India were left in a state of shock after the late blitz but did just enough to earn a late penalty which was converted calmly by captain Suresh Singh in the dying minutes of the game.
Nicolai Adam and co will take heart from their team's performance and will need nothing less than a win versus Iran to qualify to the semi-finals. A heartening aspect in the game was to be the attendance of 4137 supporters who cheered the teams on, first time that the crowd count went over a thousand in the tournament.