‘Robbed, cheated, and undone’ was the chant on everyone’s lips as poor refereeing tore India’s World Cup campaign to shreds after Qatari referee Banjar Al Doasry controversially awarded his fellow Gulf countrymen two spot kicks inside the first 30 minutes and sent off two Indian players that killed off the contest. UAE eventually won 3-0, but it was the performance of the referee that was the talking point and will be a hotly debated topic in the days to come.
Armando Colaco gave the armband to India’s most experienced man and Asia Cup captain, Climax Lawrence and started with a 4-4-2 formation with Chhetri and Jeje in attack, while Climax partnered Mehtab in the middle of the park. India started resolutely matching UAE pass for pass and attack for attack and were unfazed by their higher ranked opponents. Syed Rahim Nabi and Steven Dias on the flanks, who started ahead of Lalrindika Ralte on the right were constantly running up and down the field trying to create chances for the attackers.
The defense too comprising of Gourmangi Singh and Raju Geekwad in the center and Dempo teammates Samir Naik and Debabrata Roy on the wings thwarted the initial chances that the home team had. India’s first chance came when a corner kick was floated in dangerously by Steven Dias; the goalkeeper missed the flight of the ball completely but unfortunately for the visitors there as no one to meet the ball.
UAE then came storming back with a couple of raids on the Indian citadel. First, Ismail Hammadi smacked a powerful shot from the right that went just over the cross bar. A couple of minutes later, Debabrata Roy got undone by some brilliant dribbling by Ahmad Khalil, who cut inside and laid the ball to skipper Al Wehaibi, but his snapshot went sailing over much to the relief of Subrata Paul. But just when it seemed India would weather the initial storm, Roy had his arms over Al Wahaibi that brought him down and the referee immediately pointed to the spot, although it must be said that Wahaibi made a meal of it and dropped to the turf as soon as he saw Roy’s arms wrap around him. The result was that the India leftback, being the last man was sent off and Hamdan Al Kamali coolly slotted the penalty past a diving Subrata Paul.
India were already one goal and a man down after twenty minutes but there was much more drama to follow. Four minutes later, Climax Lawrence brought down Al Wahaibi on the edge of the box to concede a free kick. The kick was floated in and collected by Subrata Paul after letting it bounce on the ground. Hammadi charged in anticipating a spill by the Indian custodian, the Indian keeper after seeing the onrushing Hammadi tried to shield the ball and in the process raised a knee that caught the chest of Hammadi, who theatrically fell to the ground again and succeeded in coercing the referee to award a second spot kick and send off India’s keeper. Ironically Subrata was sent off in India’s previous World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in Goa too.
High drama followed as India and Subrata Paul looked stunned. Savio Medei was seen animated as the referee’s assessor and match commissioner came on the pitch to cool the tempers. Play was stopped for nearly six minutes as Armando Colaco nearly contemplated not playing the remainder of the game but then urged his players to continue fearing the risk of sanctions from AFC/FIFA.
When play finally resumed, Steven Dias was made the sacrificial lamb as Karanjit Singh was handed an early debut replacing Paul. Mohammed al Shehhi slotted the penalty to make it 2-0 to the hosts and India was down in the dumps, 2-0 down and 2 men down.
Coach Armando was forced to make changes as he employed Nabi at left back and brought down Chhetri to make it a three-man midfield along with Climax and Mehtab, with Jeje being the lone man upfront. UAE then utilized their numerical advantage to the fullest, constantly raiding the Indian fortress and threatening to score each time they got forward. But Karanjit produced magnificent saves. first from Ismail Hammadi and then Khalil to keep India in the game going into the second half
The second forty five minutes saw Chhetri testing the UAE keeper in the 51st minute, but the shot lacked power. In the 60th minute, India got its first real chance when a header by Chhetri caught the UAE keeper off his line but he quickly rushed back to collect the ball. Al Musabi caused plenty of problems for the Indians after coming on as a second half substitute by cleverly putting in balls and running at defenders but it was not until the 81st minute that UAE got their third. Ismail Hammadi after latching on to a pass from Abdul Rehmann guided the ball into the net to leave India with a mountain to climb in the second leg in New Delhi on the 28th.
The margin could have been worse but Karanjit was brilliant in the second half pulling save after save from the boots of Abdul Rehman and Al Rahman. He was brave coming out and punching the ball with ease and also leaping from left to right palming the ball away. Credit though must be also given to the Indian defenders who battled it out and hung in there, sometimes putting their bodies on the line. Samir once again played his heart out though he was a bit slow on more than one occasion. Nabi too adapted to the left-back position with ease after being forced to move behind from midfield following the sending off of Debabrata Roy. Towards the end UAE hit the woodwork on more than one occasion but could not add to their tally.
In his post match conference, Colaco minced no words and attacked the referee for being harsh on his team.
“Everyone saw the match today and can easily make out what is right and what is wrong. The match was evenly poised and we were neck-to-neck before the two penalties were awarded. My questions is do those incidents merit a red card?”
“In the case of Roy, the goalkeeper was behind him. He was not the last defender. Subrata had the ball in his hand. So he was protecting it when the player charged him. I know he lifted his leg, but who came charging? Punish him with a yellow card, but not a red card, because he had the ball with him.
“I think the red cards were unnecessary. The referee killed the game. It would have been a very nice game.
“I appreciate and I congratulate UAE for winning this match, but don’t forget my boys put up a spirited show because they scored just one field goal,” Colaco was quoted saying.
The coach also revealed that his players were livid with the referee and wanted to walk off the field. “There was an emotional outburst due to the poor decision by the referee. The players said they did not want to continue. I thought of the sanctions that could follow from AFC and FIFA and asked my players to keep their cool and continue. I do not think my Association (AIFF) would have allowed a walk out,” said India’s most successful club coach.
Armando though admitted that it would be tough to overcome the deficit but said that his team would go all-out to beat the UAE at home. “We will be playing at home and results can be overturned”, he thundered and also singled out Karanjit for special praise. Its over to New Delhi now to see if miracles do happen in football.