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AFC U23 Championship

AFC U-23: Disappointing display leaves India with plenty of room for improvement

06:50 EAT 23/03/2019
India U-23
Dheeraj Singh kept India in the game for most parts but the hosts soon took control and made it 3-0...

India U-23 were lucky that Dheeraj Singh had a really good day in between the sticks against Uzbekistan on Friday in their first AFC U-23 Championship qualifier. They lost 0-3 to the hosts but it could have been a whole lot worse.

After Pakistan withdrew from the tournament, the young Blues were left with two obstacles in Group F - Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Derrick Pereira's team did not give a good account of their talent in their first match and the performance needs to improve if they are to come away with three points in their next game.

The most glaring weakness in the team seems to be in the attacking third. Apart from Rahul KP who impressed with his menacing runs down the flanks early on in the game, nobody really stood up. Daniel Lalhlimpuia had a forgettable outing as the lone striker and Lallianzuala Chhangte struggled to impress.

Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa had a difficult time on the ball against a superior midfield as Uzbekistan were dominant right from the off to the very end. India's chances, which were few and far between, mostly came through turnovers or quick counters. That wasn't a bad strategy to use in the game but for it to work out, the team needed a better output in the attacking third.

The Blues conceded their first goal through a penalty at arguably the worst time to give away a goal - the stroke of half-time. Gaurav Bora's poor challenge on Alijanov Ilkhamjon allowed skipper Islomjon Kobilov to slot home from 12 yards.

After the break, although India looked like they were getting a grip of the game, Uzbekistan were never truly under threat. All the Blues did was pile up the pressure by pushing players forward and leave gaps at the back without really having a clue about how to carve out clear-cut chances. And the opponents were too good not to take advantage. 

Bobir Abdixolikov found it really easy to sneak into an unmarked area inside the box and find the net to double his team's lead. India pressed further forward and while their forwards passed the ball among themselves at one end, Bobir Abdixolikov passed it into the net at the other after being gifted possession by Sarthak Golui.

Dheeraj made another one-on-one save before the end of the game, keeping the scoreline down to 0-3. Anwar Ali was another guy who did not look out of his depth. However, collectively India did not fire.

With Tajikistan up next in a day's time, India just need to forget this match ever happened because there is no time for Pereira to go back to the drawing board.