India’s gritty first-half display goes in vain as Australia smash two goals in the second half

unnamed   2024 01 16T192512.979
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Indian defenders watch helplessly as Jordan Bos scores the second goal for Australia

World No 104 India maintained their compact lines for the first half against Australia but two momentary lapses of concentration in the second half allowed the Socceroos to win the encounter at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup by a 2-0 scoreline at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. 

Igor Stimac fielded his side in a 4-5-1 formation with captain Sunil Chhetri, making his 148th appearance for the country, the lone man upfront. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu guarded the goal with the two players being the only representatives from the India squad which participated in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. 

Nikhil Poojary, Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, and Subhasish Bose formed the back four while Deepak Tangri, Apuia Ralte, and Suresh Singh Wangjam played as the three central midfielders. The Mohun Bagan SG midfielder was surprisingly handed a debut while fellow MBSG forward  Manvir Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte attacked down the wings. 

Australia coach Graham Arnold fielded his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Matthew Ryan guarding the sticks in his 87th appearance for the nation. Gethin Jones, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles, and Aziz Behich formed the back four with Keanu Baccus and Jackson Irvine playing as the two defensive midfielders ahead of them. Martin Boyle, Connor Metcalfe, and Craig Goodwin played as the three attacking midfielders feeding balls to Mitchell Duke. 

India got a wonderful opportunity in the 3rd minute when Lallianzuala Chhangte was fed a through pass on a counter-attack. The left winger tried to find Sunil Chhetri but the ball trickled out of play. Mitchell Duke unleashed a shot from distance three minutes later but it was well off target for Australia. 

The Socceroos nearly took the lead in the 11th minute when Duke found himself at the end of a header from a free-kick. But, his effort was inches wide. India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was called into action for the first time in the 13th minute when Martin Boyle’s header off Keanu Baccus’ cross went straight into his hands. 

The best chance of the first half fell to India in the 15th minute when Nikhil Poojary bombarded forward on the overlap and made an aerial cross towards the centre. Australia’s Harry Souttar was caught napping and that allowed Chhetri to reach the end of the ball. Chhetri’s stooping header, however, rolled wide of the crossbar. 

In the 21st minute, Duke pressurized Gurpreet to concede possession in the final third towards Craig Goodwin. The latter released an unmarked Connor Metcalfe inside the penalty box but Gurpreet thwarted the effort with his fists. 

Ten minutes later, Aziz Behich overlapped on the left flank to find Boyle with a whipping cross towards the back post. However, the latter fired his volley high over the bar. Subhasish Bose conceded a free-kick just outside the box in the 37th minute and Goodwin whipped a curling delivery towards the centre aiming for Souttar. However, Manvir Singh nodded the ball out of play to prevent a potential goal in the first half. 

The tale was no different in the 41st minute when Goodwin’s cross found Metcalfe inside the box. However, Rahul Bheke deflected the ball with his head to concede a corner kick. Australia had 12 corner kicks to their name in the first half against India’s zero and had a considerable aerial advantage but failed to make the most of it. 

Sunil Chhetri barely got the ball to touch in the second half in the opposition half against Australia

India’s hard work was completely undone in the 50th minute when Australia found the breakthrough. Gurpreet failed to collect a cross from the right wing and deflected it into the path of an unmarked Jackson Irvine. In his 62nd appearance for Australia, Irvine chested the ball with his first touch and volleyed the ball into an empty net to give the Socceroos the lead. 

In the 55th minute, Behich pounced on a rebound and went for glory from a tight angle. However, Bose’s block meant that Australia still had to wait for a few more minutes before scoring their second goal. Four minutes later, Goodwin’s corner kick finally found Souttar inside the box but the defender’s angled header sailed narrowly over the crossbar. 

India almost pulled a goal back in a bizarre fashion through the possibility of an own goal in the 69th minute. Baccus tried to give his goalkeeper Matthew Ryan a back pass but it curled past him. Just before the ball could roll past the goal line, Ryan jogged back to stop it in its tracks. 

Australia made two substitutes at the hour mark with Riley McGree and Samuel Silvera coming in place of Metcalfe and Boyle. In the 72nd minute, Jordan Bos and Bruno Fornaroli entered the pitch for Goodwin and Duke respectively. The substitutes McGree and Bos combined well to score Australia’s second goal that sealed the deal for them. 

In the 73rd minute, McGree surged past Lalengmawia and Bose in the right flank and drew all of India’s defenders as he bluffed to take a shot. Rather, he made a low pass towards Bos who angled the ball into an empty net with his first touch. 

Fornaroli’s free kick in the 81st minute after Lalengmawia fouled Silvera at the edge of the box almost resulted in Australia scoring their third goal. However, Gurpreet held on to his lines nicely this time and dived full stretched to parry away his shot. 

In the 88th minute, McGree’s cross from the right flank found Bos inside the box. But, the substitute missed out on his brace after his shot was fired wide off the crossbar. In the sixth minute of added time, Silvera took two shots from inside the box but both of them were blocked by the Indian defenders. Behich went for glory from distance on the rebound but his effort sailed high over the crossbar. 

The referee Yoshimi Yamashita soon blew her full-time whistle after becoming the first female official to take charge at the AFC Asian Cup. The full-time scoreline read 2-0 in favor of Australia as India won hearts for their defensive solidarity in the first half. 

The Blue Tigers will take on Uzbekistan on Thursday while Australia will lock horns with Syria on the same day in their AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign.