The Indian Men’s Football team after a 48 hour delayed arrival in South Korea, were in action against 65th ranked United Arab Emirates. A win for the ‘men in blue’ would take them on top of their group and lead them in contention to qualify from the preliminary round. However a loss would put an end to their Asian Dreams as the dreaded must win tie against 56th ranked Jordan would lurk in the shadows. Similarly a win for United Arab Emirates would take them top of the group and nullify an all-important clash against Jordan. In a Group consisting of just three teams, a win to mark the opening game would ensure a solid start to the tournament for both the contingents.
The Indian Squad lined up in a much expected, coach favourite 4-2-3-1 formation. The Squad consisted of Amrinder, Pritam, Sandesh, Joyner, Narayan, Pronay, Siam, Francis, Mandar, Sunil and Robin Singh. UAE on the contrary lined up in a classic 4-4-2 with Saeed Al Kathiri operating as the target man.
From the first kick off the ball, the Arabs showed potential signs of a dominant display as they registered a first shot on goal withing 10 seconds of the tournament. Lights blows were exchanged in the opening 10minutes as both sides, displayed astuteness, skill and an array of passes. The Indian Backline consisting of in-form Sandesh Jhinghan were holding a good line and compressing the Arab Strikers. However the Arabs showed early signs of threat as a lob ball followed by a toe poke by Al Kathiri was cleared by Sandesh. Seconds into the latter half of the 10th Minute, Pronay Halder was stretchered off after falling awkwardly near the 6-yard region. Consequently, he was replaced by East Bengal’s Lalridika Ralte, who went straight into the pivot position. Constant threats were being hurled onto the Indian Defense as UAE looked slightly more organised and composed than their Indian Compatriots. The 13th minute marked the opening goal of the tournament, after an inviting cross from the right flank was met by a cheeky finish by Saeed Al Kathiri, beating Pune FC keeper Arminder Singh. Failed Indian Retaliation minutes later, meant another goal for the arabs, as Al Kathiri once again, headed home brilliantly. Falling prey to two quick counterattacks, the Indian contingent conceded 2 goals in less than 2 minutes. Dominated constantly by their Arab opponents, the Indian Right Back Pritam Kotal, launched an accurate long ball towards captain Sunil Chhetri, only to be brought down by the defender in the six yard area, without conceding a penalty in the 19th minute. Seconds later, against the run of play Arab Winger Al-Ahababi scored a sensational goal, yet again on the counter. Within 20 minutes of the match, the Indians had become victims of three superb Arab counterattacks, all of which resulted in brilliantly finished goals. Indian Retaliation was soon on its way as Pritam Kotal fired in a sensational striker from 25 yards, only to be saved by the Arab Goal Keeper. The rest of the half was marked with signs of zero chemistry, tactical failures and school boy errors, from the Indian perspective. Lalrindika Ralte, who is supposed to be one of the best long range shooters in the I-league, sadly dint have his shooting boots on as he constantly shot wide of the target. The UAE squad look in its best shape, solid and compact, tactically fit and complete, their diagonals were constant threats to the Indian Back four. The first half ended in much misery and despair for the Indians as a 3-0 scoreline reflected their complacent nature.
Instead of revolutionizing things, Wim Koevermans decided to stay put, as dead weight like Francis Fernandes were still, left on. The second half, exactly like the first started with a ferocious Arab attack, only to be dealt by the Indian Defense. Being 3-0 up, the Arabs decided for a more composed display of skill, as their players often kept possession. After an inspired header by Robin Singh, which was also his first big contribution to the team, Francis Fernandes broke free and ran towards the by-line to deliver the cross, only to be tackled by the bombarding UAE Defender. The Indian gathered momentum as they tried to jot down an array of passes together which resulted in two glorious opportunities for Ralte, as he shot wide on both occasions. The Indian Midfield looked pretty much absent as the Pacey Arab Wingers were constantly running at Joyner and Sandesh, the Indian Center Back pairing. Sunil Chhetri looked off color, as the captain misplaced passes on more than one occasions, an event rarely seen. After a relaxed 15 minutes into the second half, the arabs decided to stretch their scoring spree as Saeed Al Kathiri completed his hattrick, finding the net with his left boot this time round, doing justice to a pin-point cross from the right flank. At 4-0 the pressure to deliver creaked in onto the Indians and possession was often lost unnecessarily. The Indians reverted to the old formula of hoofing the ball, as the arab midfielders were a constant thorn in their passes. The Indians ironically, made two banks of four and rarely tested the arab keeper, with only Captain Sunil Chhetri verifying the Arab’s pedigree in the 75th minute. Clueless and tired, the men in blue succumbed to another goal from the Arabs around the 82nd minute marker, after a deft Al Kathiri touch beat keeper Arminder Singh, only to be dealt with a faulty goal line clearance by Sandesh, which resulted in the unthinkable. 5-0, the scoreboard glittered, as the Indians lost all hope of making a comeback.
Defeat to the United Arab Emirates means a must win clash against Jordan on the 22nd of September, however the form the Indian Contingent is in, one can only bet that the boys in blue would go on to loose their next fixture. The Indian dreams of progressing through to the next round are already over and only a miracle can ensure them through. United Arab Emirates on the contrary, displayed class, quality and acumen in their 5-0 thrashing of India. Skipper Saeed Al-Kathiri has yet again justified his role and is one of the leading lights in the Arab Contingent.