Fighting all odds, on and off the field, India reached the last-16 stage of the Asian Games men’s football after a gap of 13 years when they eked out a 1-1 draw against Myanmar in Hangzhou on Sunday.
For India, Sunil Chhetri scored from a penalty before Yan Kyaw Htwe got the equaliser.
India made the pre-quarter-finals as the runners-up team from Group A and will now meet Saudi Arabia on September 28. Myanmar, too, made the grade as one of the best four third-placed teams.
India and Myanmar, though, both finished with four points apiece. But India made the cut to second place in the group by virtue of scoring more goals than Myanmar. China topped the group.
Captain Chhetri had scored the winner against Bangladesh last Thursday and those three crucial points kept India’s dreams of reaching the last-16 alive.
On Sunday too, it was the indomitable Chhetri who stood tall. In the 23rd minute, he calmly stepped up and buried yet another penalty.
It was Myanmar, though, who started the match on an attacking note, aiming to put pressure on the Indian defence. On the left wing, Khun Kyaw Zin Hein showcased his remarkable speed, while Zaw Win Thien and Htet Phoye Wai sought to create scoring opportunities through set-pieces.
However, the Indian defence, under the commanding presence of Sandesh Jhingan, remained unyielding during the first half and effectively repelled all Myanmar’s offensive attempts.
Early in the second half India had two consecutive opportunities to extend their advantage but failed to capitalise on them. First, substitute Gurkirat Singh squandered a one-on-one opportunity with Myanmar goalkeeper Zin Nyi Nyi Aung in the 52nd minute. A minute later, Rahim Ali too found himself one-on-one with Aung, but failed to convert.
Heartbreak for women
India's senior women’s team’s dream of crossing the group stage hurdle evaporated on the pitch of Wenzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, when they went down to Thailand 1-0.
Thongrong Parichat scored the all-important goal in the 51st minute.