Uzbekistan humbles India with three first-half strikes

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India came out second best against Uzbekistan in a lopsided encounter at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup

India huffed and puffed in search of a goal but it never came as Uzbekistan struck thrice inside the first half to climb to the second spot in Group B of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Abbosbek Fayzullaev, Igor Sergeyev, and Sherzod Nasrullaev were the goalscorers at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan. 

Igor Stimac fielded his side in a 4-3-3 formation as Naorem Mahesh Singh, Anirudh Thapa, and Akash Mishra coming into the starting XI at the expense of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Deepak Tangri, and Subhasish Bose.

Uzbekistan took the field in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Rustamjon Ashurmatov, Khojiakbar Alijonov, and Khojimat Erkinov making way for Sherzod Nasrullaev, Abbosbek Fayzullaev, and striker Igor Sergeyev.

Uzbekistan took the lead in the 4th minute as the Indian defense was caught napping. CSKA Moscow’s Fayzullaev won the ball in the midfield and released Nasurallev in the left flank, who swung a cross towards the middle with Sergeyev towering above Poojary to fling it towards Fayzullaev. Gurpreet came out of his line to collect the ball but failed to reach there in time, resulting in Fayzullaev nodding it home past him. 

Uzbekistan struck the woodwork in the 10th minute as they displayed total control over India. Sergeyev took a shot at goal but Gurpreet parried it away to safety. The move ended with Masharipov winning a foul and striking the woodwork from the resulting free-kick as Gurpreet breathed a collected sigh of relief. 

The goal did come for Uzbekistan in the 18th minute as they got a two-goal cushion. Fayzullaev raced past Bheke and tried to play a back pass but Mishra extended his boot to intercept the ball which took a wicked deflection and struck the woodwork. The rebound fell towards Sergeyev who tapped the ball in and made it 2-0 for Uzbekistan. 

Poojary bombarded down the right flank and tried to create an opportunity for India but it fell to deaf ears twice past the twenty minute mark. India got another opportunity in the 29th minute when Naorem Mahesh Singh won a free-kick for his side at the opposition half. Skipper Sunil Chhetri curled his free-kick towards Mishra at the box but the latter’s header was wayward. 

Bheke made a vital block for his side in the 33rd minute after Masharipov passed the ball towards Fayzullaev in the final third. The duo combined once again two minutes later with the former chipping the ball over Jhingan but Gurpreet came out of his line to avert the danger.

In the 45th minute of the game, India came close twice to scoring and pulling a goal back but had to go back empty-handed. Suresh Singh Wangjam won a foul for his side and Thapa’s cross was palmed away by Yusupov. On the rebound, Mahesh struck a thunderous volley low and hard but the Uzbekistan goalkeeper kept his eyes on the ball to thwart it away. 

From the resulting corner kick, Chhetri timed his run perfectly to get to the end of it but his angled header sailed inches above the crossbar. 

Just when it looked India would go to the tunnel with two goals down, Uzbekistan piled further misery on them with a goal in the fourth minute of added time. Sayfiev overlapped down the right flank and crossed the ball into the box. Nasrulloev’s initial header struck the bar but the rebound fell luckily towards him and he made no mistake with the second bite of the cherry. 

India had only three shots in the first half with only one of them on target while Uzbekistan had twelve of them with five on target. The difference in the sides was evident as Uzbekistan carved open the Indian midfield and defense with split passing and composed decision making in the final third. 

Rahul KP struck the woodwork after coming on as a substitute in the second half

Rahul KP replaced Manvir Singh in the right wing at half-time after the latter looked off color with his first touches. In the 50th minute, the substitute hit the crossbar and gave India a glimmer of hope. 

Collecting a pass from Mishra, Rahul burst through the flank and struck the woodwork after beating the goalkeeper. Chhetri took the shot on the rebound but his effort was blocked by Khusanov. 

Uzbekistan decided to sit back and allow India the possession in the second half. At the hour mark of the game, India held close to 55% of possession but all of them fizzled out in the midfield with Shukurov and Hamrobekov winning the battles. 

Rahul was once again in the thick of things in the 72nd minute as his burst of pace caught Eshmuradov on his heels. The latter came back with a sliding tackle to limit the damage as Uzbekistan kept their clean sheet intact. 

In the 73rd minute, Stimac made two changes with Ishan Pandita and Brandon Fernandes coming on for Sunil Chhetri and Anirudh Thapa. Brandon’s introduction injected positive energy into the pitch but Pandita was barely able to challenge the Uzbekistan team with his lack of pace hurting him. 

Uzbekistan recognized the threat of Rahul down the flank and closed him down with two men to avert his danger. Brandon’s first contribution came in taking the corner kick and his curling delivery was connected nicely by Rahul Bheke but Yusupov read the trajectory of the ball and palmed it away to safety. 

In the fourth minute of added time, substitute Iskanderov hit the crossbar before the referee blew his full time whistle. With four points from two games, Uzbekistan is in second place behind Australia in Group B, who became the first team to book their berth in the Round of 16 after win over Syria earlier in the day. 

Uzbekistan would aim to finish as group stage winners with a win over Australia in their game on Tuesday while India will have to come up with some new strategies on Tuesday when they square off against Syria. 

Sahal Abdul Samad and Liston Colaco should recover from injuies for that match with the Blue Tigers needing to win the encounter at any cost and hope that other results go in their favor to finish as one of the four best third-placed teams in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.