| Bhaichung Bhutia vies with a Syrian defender in New Delhi on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi: India’s limitations were exposed under lights at the Ambedkar Stadium on Thursday when they went down fighting to Syria 2-3 in the ONGC Nehru Cup.
With 12,000 vociferous fans rooting for the home team right from the beginning, the Indians could not match the matured display of the Syrians despite dishing out a gallant display.
The task was not beyond the grasp of Houghton’s men. They lost but were certainly not disgraced. Time and again India attacked with vigour and showed how vulnerable the Syrian defence was. Bhaichung and Sunil Chhetri had at least four scoring opportunities between themselves but they wasted all.
Slow movement in the attacking third was India’s biggest problem. To add to their woes, the defence and midfield looked shaky. All three goals, including the winner by Zyad Chaabo in the 65th minute, were avoidable.
The defeat has put the hosts in a spot of bother. India, who now have six points, cannot afford to lose to Kyrgyzstan in their last round robin tie on Sunday. The Central Asian country now have two points and are favourites against Bangladesh on Friday.
Playing against a team ranked 112th in the world, it was refreshing to watch the Indians not getting into a defensive shell. Throughout the 90 minutes, Indians played pressing football and managed two goals.
Ajayan’s strike in the 81st minute was the goal of the day. With India trailing 1-3, the substitute midfielder came in the 78th minute and struck a wonderful goal almost immediately. He dribbled past three defenders and then unleashed a booming 30-yard left footer that crashed into the net.
India, in fact were in lead in the 13th minute. This was the period when they were chasing almost every ball in the middle much to the discomfort of the Syrian defenders.
One such move saw Bhaichung picking up a ball in the middle which he relayed for Climax Lawrence on the right. The Goan midfielder was quick to send it further on the right side for an onrushing Chhetri, who took a couple of steps before finding the target with an angular right footer.
Syria took 10 minutes to retaliate through a header by Khaled M Albaya.
Goalkeeper Subrata Pal had no business coming out and missing the flight when Syria scored first. The second goal was also the result of a defensive lapse as Man of the Match Chaabo made the most of a counter attack.
Syria: Nowsasab Blahowss; Ali Dyeb, Mohammed Alzeno, Khaled M Albaya and Mootassem Alaya (Al Amena 74th); Aatef Jenyat (Ali Alrifaai 80th), Wael Ayan, Al Fandi and Feraz Esmaeel; Zyad Chaabo, Maher Al Sayed.
India: Subrata Pal; Surkumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Gourmangi Singh, NS Manju; Steven Dias, Climax Lawrence, NP Pradeep (Abhishek Yadav, 89th), Clifford Miranda (K Ajayan, 70th); Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia.
Referee: Surendra (Nepal).