Meek India downs tools in 0-1 defeat against Syria

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Omar Khribin’s goal fired Syria into the Round of 16

In the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, Syria handed India a 1-0 defeat at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, on Tuesday as Omar Khribin scored the only goal of the match, which sealed three points for the Syrians.

Although his team lost their last match against Australia by a 0-1 margin, Syria’s Argentina head coach Hector Cuper made no changes to his starting XI for the clash against India.

On the contrary, Indian head coach Igor Stimac made wholesale changes to his lineup. Subhasish Bose replaced Nikhil Poojary in the starting XI, with Rahul Bheke switching back to his preferred right-back position. Suresh Singh Wangjam made way for Deepak Tangri while Lallianzuala Chhangte was preferred ahead of Anirudh Thapa.

Unlike what many would have predicted, the first chance of the game fell for the Indians, with Naorem Mahesh Singh finding himself in space inside the box in only the 4th minute but his shot was saved by the Syrian custodian Ahmad Madania.

Syria’s first opportunity came in the 9th minute when a cross was floated in for striker Pablo Sabbag. While his shot was saved by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, defender Aiham Ousou had another chance from a cross just seconds later, but blazed it over the bar.

The first major chance for the Qasioun Eagles came in the 20th minute when Apuia Ralte lost possession at a dangerous position. Ezequiel Ham launched a menacing counter-attack before pulling the trigger, but Gurpreet was up to the task yet again. The rebound fell for Sabbag, whose effort was blocked by Subhasish.

The Syrian camp appealed for a penalty in the 28th minute when in the process of taking a shot, midfielder Ammar Ramadan clattered with Tangri inside the box. However, it was deemed to be a fair challenge by the referee.

The DAC 1904 midfielder had another chance in the 40th minute, but his shot was saved by Gurpreet. From the counter, India could have created a rare opening for themselves, but Sunil Chhetri and Apuia ran into each other’s path, making the task easier for Cuper’s backline.

Indian captain Sunil Chhetri barely had any opportunity in this game

The rare India chance finally came in the sixth minute of the first half’s additional time, when Manvir Singh did well to lay off a cushioned header into Chhetri’s path from a long ball from the deep. But with white shirts approaching him, the Indian skipper lashed onto his attempt, eventually sending the ball some thirty rows back into the stadium.

The second half started with Syria going all guns blazing, and they nearly scored the opener in the 50th minute. After receiving a headed pass from Belgrano midfielder Ibrahim Hesar, Khribin launched a powerful attempt which might have found Gurpreet in trouble, had it not been cleared by Subhasish.

The game was completely dominated by Syria, but India nearly got a gift from the Syrian goalkeeper in the 54th minute. In an attempt to deal with a cross, Madania spilt the ball into the feet of Chhangte, but a poor first touch from the Mumbai City winger helped Cuper’s team preserve their clean sheet.

Only nine minutes later, India offered a return gift via Akash Mishra. The Hyderabad left-back lost his balance inside the box, giving the ball away to Hesar who launched a delightful cross for Khribin. However, the Al Wahda attacker could not guide his header on target.

In the 68th minute, Ramadan sprinted down the left flank before launching a shot, which did nothing more than disturb the side netting. But the continuous attacks eventually paid off, as Syria broke the deadlock in the 76th minute.

Mishra lost possession once again, leading to a counter-attack which saw Hesar in acres of space down the left flank and he then squared the ball to Khribin, who first sold a dummy to Bheke before launching his shot into the back of the net.

Only three minutes later, he could have had another goal to his name, but his effort was not nearly as impressive on this occasion. India’s next chance came in the 89th minute via a free-kick. 

Substitute Thapa launched his ball into the box for Bheke, but the Mumbai City defender could not guide his header on target. At the other end, Syria nearly made it 2-0 through a swift counter-attack. 

After receiving the ball from Abdul Rahman Weiss, Khribin laid off a pass for Alaa Al Dali. The Naft Missan striker would have found himself through on goal with only Gurpreet to beat, had the pass been slightly underhit.

In the dying stages of the game, India tried all they could for an equalizer. Mishra had a menacing cross acrobatically punched away by Madania, while Bheke had an ambitious strike that was nowhere near on target.With this win, Syria finished their group stage campaign with four points. They are currently third in Group B and have already qualified for the Round of 16, where they will meet the winner of Group C. On the other hand, India remains at the bottom with no points in their account and their next game will be against Afghanistan on 21st March.