A formidable Saudi Arabia didn’t bring their ‘A’ game to the fore yet were strong enough to ward off a gutsy challenge from India winning their pre-quarterfinal match 2-0 in the men’s football competition in Hangzhou on Thursday. There was no doubt about Saudi Arabia’s supremacy as forward Mohammed Khalil Marran’s opportunistic twin strikes in the 51st and 57th minute ended Sunil Chhetri-led India’s campaign at the continental event. However, Igor Stimac’s players can hold their heads high with the kind of performance that they put in despite so much uncertainty and with AIFF sending a second string side due to the obstinate attitude from the Indian Super League (ISL) organisers who refused to release top players.
A victory against Saudi Arabia would have been a miracle but considering that this bunch of players haven’t even been in a camp together, holding the potential gold medal contenders to a goalless deadlock for the first 45 minutes was a laudable effort from them.
The defence marshalled by Sandesh Jhingan kept its shape but it was the better stamina, stronger legs and superior skills of the Saudis that prevailed in the end.
Just like it happened during the China match, the wheels came off just after the 50th minute.
The only difference from that match was that the players were well rested and hence floodgates didn’t open after the winners had scored a brace.
In the 51st minute, Mohammed Al Abu Shamat sent a perfect cross from the right flank and Khalil outwitted his marker Jhingan to powerfully nod it home giving his team the lead.
The goal did create a bit of panic in the Indian ranks and the second goal was completed in five touches.
After snatching the ball in the Indian defensive third, a defence splitting through pass freed the former Al Nassr striker on the right side of the penalty box.
The fourth touch was an outside dodge beating the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh and the fifth touch was a cool slotting of the ball into the back of the net.
To be fair to the Indian team, the defence didn’t operate from too deep and although they didn’t have numerical advantage in the opposition attacking third, Saudi can’t claim that they had too many scoring chances.
One goal that they missed was a Musab Al-Juwayr’s snap right-footer that beat Dheeraj and dipped only to hit the horizontal bar.
This happened in the 22nd minute of the first half. The other close chance was when Zakaria Hawsawi had a clear look at the goal from close range but Jhingan put his body in line with perfect anticipation to avert the danger. (Asian Games 2023 Medals Tally | Asian Games 2023 Full Schedule)
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