Syria knock India out of Asian Cup with 1-0 win

Indian football team

India are out of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup after a 1-0 defeat against Syria in their last group stage game. Omar Khirbin scored the only goal of the match in the 76th minute with three touches of the highest class. The first squared up Rahul Bheke, the second sold him a sensational fake, and the third saw the ball nestle in the bottom corner past a hapless Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Khirbin, a former AFC Asian Player of the Year (2017), was a second-half substitute and helped turned the tide completely in favour of Syria.

The first half had been a much more even contest: India started much the brighter before Syria grew into it after a spell. Mahesh Singh had a great chance in the third minute to open the scoring. It stemmed from some lovely passing in midfield that ended with the ball at Manvir Singh’s feet on the right. Looking up he spied Mahesh in a pocket of space and picked him out. A quick turn and a shimmy of his hips saw him speed into the six-yard box and get a shot off, but it was closed down by a combination of goalkeeper Ahmad Madania and centre-back Aiham Ousou.

Mahesh was in the middle of another chance just two minutes later as he intercepted a pass in midfield and moved it quickly forward to Manvir. With Sunil Chhetri racing alongside him, India had a two-on-one, but Manvir dallied with the ball and picked out the lone defender with his attempted pass across to Chhetri.

Those two early chances were India’s best of the game: they created a bit more thanks to Mahesh’s and Lallianzuala Chhangte’s running, but those did little to trouble the Hector Cuper-drilled defence.

At the other end, Subhasish Bose, playing as left centre-back had a superb half (and indeed game) as he blocked out everything Syria threw at him. Fellow centre-back Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet had good halves too as they saw out the Syrian threat and prompted Indian counters now and then.

The second half started on a bad note for the Indians after Jhingan went down clutching his knee… this forced Igor Stimac to push Bheke inside and introduce Nikhil Poojary at right back. Meanwhile, he’d already taken Mahesh Singh off for Udanta Singh after Mahesh had been involved in a running clash with Syria RB Abdul Rahman Oues and gotten himself booked.

The biggest substitution though was Khirbin coming on for Pablo Sabbag and his impact was felt immediately. Syria looked much the better side with Khirbin coming down the middle, and India losing their most imposing defensive presence in Jhingan.

This result means Syria finish third with four points, while India finish bottom with zero. At one and two are Australia (seven points) and Uzbekistan (five points) after their 1-1 draw in the other match of the group.


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