A late header Jeje Lalpekhlua was not enough to save India's blushes in Kyrgyzstan as the visitors ended their Asian Cup qualification group stage with a 1-2 defeat at the Dolena Omarzukova Stadium in Bishkek on Tuesday.
Anton Zemlianukhin scored as early as the third minute of the match and Mirlan Murzaev doubled the hosts' lead in the 73rd minute. Jeje Lalpekhlua scored in the 87th minute to keep India top of the group standings.
Aleksandr Krestinin made two changes to his starting lineup that thrashed Myanmar 5-1 and confirmed their progress into the Asian Cup finals. Pavel Matiash started in goal in place of Valery Kaszuba and Farhat Musabekov replaced Aziz Sydykov in midfield.
Stephen Constantine rang the changes as India looked to end their qualification campaign as group winners. There were as many as five changes from their 2-2 draw against Myanmar in November 2017. Balwant Singh was handed a start up front in the absence of Sunil Chhetri who missed due to suspension.
Rowlin Borges and Mohammed Rafique were paired up in midfield and Lalruatthara started as the right-back in place of Pritam Kotal who could not travel due to visa issues. Narayan Das started as the left-back and Jeje Lalpekhlua was pinned at the top of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Kyrgyzstan needed to win by at least two goals to stand the chance of topping the group and they came out of their blocks like whirlwind. Baymatov's floating long pass reached Kayrat on the right who delivered a well-knit cross into the box. Anton Zemlianukhin ghosted past Lalruatthara to place a left-footed first-time effort into the net to make it 1-0 in the third minute of the match.
Победаааа! 🇰🇬🇰🇬🇰🇬— FFKR (@_FFKR) March 27, 2018
Всех с победой! pic.twitter.com/uycGeLA3Jg
India stuck to their route-one football to chase the game for an equaliser. Jeje Lalpekhlua was the lone target in the attacking third but he was marshalled well for the majority of the first half except for a brain-fade from Kyrgyzstan skipper and centre-back Baymatov in the 17th minute. The defender used his hand to prevent the ball from getting to the Mizo forward and picked up a deserved yellow card but it could have easily been an early bath.
Balwant Singh was denied a goal twice in the space of 11 minutes. Borges' free-kick came off the crossbar and fell to the Mumbai City striker who tapped it into the net but the flag had already been raised for offside. He raced past his marker into the free space behind the home defence and slotted past Matiash but the referee had blown his whistle for a foul a few seconds earlier, much to Balwant's dismay.
Narayan Das, who had a torrid first-half, was replaced by Jerry Lalrinzuala at the break. But as Constantine shut down the left flank, Lalruatthara struggled to keep up with his marker on the other side of the pitch.
Borges' long-range effort in the 53rd minute tested the goalkeeper who could only parry it into the path of Udanta. The Bengaluru FC winger directed a low shot straight back into the hands of Matiash.
Mirlan Murzaev doubled his side's lead in the 73rd minute. Duyshobekov took on and beat a struggling Lalruatthara on the left before attracting the centre-backs towards the byline. The forward cut the ball back for Murzaev who freely roamed into the box and directed the ball into the net.
It was a night to forget for India and Kyrgyzstan was threatening to top the table with a 2-0 scoreline but a consolatory Jeje Lalpekhlua goal in the 87th minute denied them the feat. Halicharan Narzary's cross from the left was headed into the net by the Chennaiyin striker but there was not enough time for a comeback.
The 2-1 result brought an end to India's 13-match unbeaten run but they end their group stage as toppers with 13 points.