India failed to take their chances as UAE handed them a 2-0 defeat on Thursday to keep Group A of the Asian Cup wide open. The scoreline wasn't entirely reflective of the cagey affair at the Zayed Sports City Stadium that now puts the hosts in the driving seat for a spot in the next round.
Khaflan Mubarak's first-half goal was enough for UAE to go into the break with a lead and they carried that momentum into the second half with an assured performance, killing any hope of a comeback from India with splendid second goal from Ali Mabkhout. India hit the bar a couple of times, and Sunil Chhetri almost gave them the opener, but were otherwise toothless when needed and now find themselves in a tricky position with their last game against Bahrain.
India kept their midfield tight and created plenty of chances to keep UAE on the backfoot while in possession. In transition, they were dangerous on the counter and kept asking questions of the rival defence. They were settled in defence until the first goal -- and overall the back four and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu were organized until they started chasing the game. The midfield and defence kept India in the game for the most part and if they had converted their chances the scoreline would have looked different.
Lack of finishing and an absence of creative spark in the final third hurt India. UAE's first goal could have been prevented and there wasn't cohesion in midfield once India started looking for an equalizer. They came close to scoring a couple of times in the first half, but lacked energy and drive in the second. Overall, the striking department lacked enough quality when it mattered and it eventually came to haunt them.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- "Never change a winning team," Stephen Constantine said before the game and he didn't do much wrong while putting out an unchanged team. His first-half tactic of keeping it tight and hitting on the counter worked until the finishing let him down. His introduction of Jeje Lalpekhlua for Hallicharan Narzary made an impression initially and India did create chances post that, but taking Ashique Kuruniyan to the left wing didn't have the desired result. The introduction of Rowllin Borges and Jackichand Singh also failed to make a difference, but Constantine tried to make an impact in the search for that elusive equalizer.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, 6 -- He was calm and assured in front of goal for most the game. Could have done better for UAE's opener but apart from that was confident whenever he was asked questions in the box. His long kicks troubled UAE on the counter throughout. One particular highlight was his one-handed catch of a dangerous ball into the box and his instant release that sprung a potent India attack.
DF Pritam Kotal, 5 -- Started by creating a couple of chances and had a decent game despite a hurried clearance that created some panic in India's defence in the first half. He was at the centre of the second goal the team conceded, but not many defenders could have stopped Mabkhout's turn and finish.
DF Anas Edathodika, 3 -- Not his best day. It was his momentary lapse of concentration that gave UAE their opener. He failed to clear the long ball that led to the goal and looked edgy in defence throughout. Was India's biggest weakness in the back four.
DF Sandesh Jhingan, 7 -- He did what was required and, on another night, could have had his name on the scoresheet. Jhingan had a strong performance at the heart of India's defence and was always organizing it while in transition. He had two chances to open the scoring for India in the first half and another late in the game.
DF Subhasish Bose, 4 -- Had a quiet game, kept it simple in defence and wasn't at fault in either of the goals conceded. Didn't contribute enough in attack and could have done more in the second half when Ashique Kuruniyan was often all by himself on the left flank.
MF Pronay Halder, 5 -- Looked nervous with his misplaced passes early on. Kept the midfield in shape in the first half, clearing a dangerous ball to thwart a chance, and had a good second half too. Tried to spring in long balls to Udanta whenever he had space, but overall didn't have much of an effect.
MF Anirudh Thapa, 7 -- Probably India's best player on the night. He created chances from dead balls and open play throughout the first half. It was his perfect cross into the box that created India's best chance in the first 45 -- Chhetri met his ball and was denied by a great reaction save. He made two chances for Jhingan as well and was lively in attack throughout the night.
MF Udanta Singh, 6 -- Always kept UAE on their toes on the right flank -- dancing, dribbling and troubling the fullbacks. He defended well too when needed. Was a constant threat on the counter and hit the bar in the second half, which was India's best chance of an equalizer when the score was still 1-0.
MF Halicharan Narzary, 3 -- Not his best game. Gave away the ball, was nervous and tried doing too much when he had the ball. Failed to give India any creative spark on the left of midfield and was correctly substituted for Jeje Lalpekhlua at the stroke of halftime.
MF Ashique Kuruniyan, 6 -- Had India's first chance after sprinting for Chhetri's through ball, but his finishing let him down and he hit it straight at the keeper. Partnered Chhetri well in attack in the first half, but failed to muster a single chance on goal in the second when he was shifted to the left. Kept UAE's defence aware of his pace on the counter, but lack of experience saw him fizzle out.
FW Sunil Chhetri, 7 -- Should have given India the lead after meeting Thapa's cross in the first half. Created chances whenever he had space and time, and looked the likeliest source for an Indian goal. He made Ashique's chance early in the game with a superb slide-rule pass and it was his one-two with Udanta that almost bought India level in the second half. Put in a hard-working performance overall, but wasn't at his clinical best.
FW Jeje Lalpekhlua, 5 -- Made an instant impact from the bench. His first involvement was a cleanly hit volley that flew just over the bar. It was his pass to Udanta, after carefully using his body to keep the ball in play, that created India's best chance for an equalizer in the second half. Did his job when he came on.
MF Rowllin Borges, 4 -- Didn't make much of an impact in midfield but created one chance with a superb delivery for Jhingan from a free kick late in the game.
MF Jackichand Singh, NA