Heartbreak in tie-break for India in Kings Cup
India was just minutes away from a famous victory but Sandesh Jhingan gave away a penalty with just ten minutes left on the clock, bringing down Iraq's Aymen Hussein inside the box.
BENGALURU: It may have turned bitter towards the end, but no Indian football fan will have switched off their television on Thursday without a bit of hope in their hearts. On paper, India versus 70th-ranked Iraq, conquerors of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the recent Arabian Gulf Cup, is a mismatch. But in their Kings Cup match at the 700th Anniversary Stadium in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Blue Tigers led for most of the ninety minutes, before tasting defeat on penalties.
If there were question marks over a Sunil Chhetri-less India’s ability to find the net, those were put to rest in just sixteen minutes. A smart move initiated by Sahal Abdul Samad was finished off by Naorem Mahesh Singh. The lead lasted just twelve minutes though as Iraq equalised through an Ali Al-Hamadi penalty after a handball inside the penalty box by Sandesh Jhingan.
A lesser team would have lost their heads at this point, but India kept theirs, calmly absorbing the Iraqi pressure while unleashing counter-attacks of their own whenever the opportunity arose. That paid off nine minutes into the second half as Iraqi keeper Jalal Hassan diverted a cross by Akash Mishra into his own net.
India was just minutes away from a famous victory but Jhingan again gave away a penalty with just ten minutes left on the clock, bringing down Aymen Hussein inside the box. It looked a soft decision and Hussein calmly slotted home the equaliser.
The match went to penalties after 90 minutes and Brandon Fernandes was the only one to miss his spot-kick. This means that Iraq will face Thailand in the final of the tournament, while India will face familiar foes Lebanon in the third-place match. It was not the result that Igor Stimac would have wanted. But after a resilient display against a team whose players are predominantly Europe-based — there was even a cameo for Zidane Iqbal who only left Manchester United this summer — the coach would have had a lot of encouraging words for his team.