Uzbekistan brings India to the cusp of elimination - AFC Asian Cup India vs Uzbekistan Review

Pic Courtesy : AFC / Indian Football Media

India went down fighting against a resilient Uzbekistan on Thursday in the ongoing AFC Asian Cup 2024. The defeat meant India are on the cusp of elimination and would need results going in their favor in the other matches to stand a chance of advancing to the next round of the competition. The match can easily be divided into two phases, the phase when India attacked and attacked and dominated the Uzbek goal, hitting the post in the process. The other phase would comprise of India defending. Uncoordinated and at times comical and silly mistakes meant India conceded three goals in the first half itself. Such a deficit in the first half against quality opposition has time and again proved to be the kryptonite for the Indian men's team. And Thursday was no different.

Igor Stimac started started his preferred 4-3-3 with Gurpreet in goal. Jhingan and Rahul Bheke started at the heart of the defense along with Akash Mishra and Nikhil Poojary. The midfield saw a change, as Anirudh Thapa came in for Deepak Tangri and he started alongside Suresh Singh and Apuia. Upfront, Mahesh replaced Chhangte while Chhetri and Manvir retained their places.

Uzbekistan looked the more livelier side from the get go. More intent, great passing and physically dominant. And their dominance didn't take much time to make an effect. A beautiful cross from the left was met with the head and laid down for an easy goal for Uzbekistan as early as in the fourth minute of the game. A must win game, a huge supporting crowd and a disastrous start. India looked shocked and crestfallen. They didn't know what had stuck them. Uzbekistan were too quick and at times too dominant for them. And it showed once again when Uzbekistan doubled their lead.

17th minute of the game. Rahul Bheke carelessly, almost criminally lost the ball in his own half. This meant Uzbekistan could win the ball back and they attacked. A low cross was met my Akash Mishra whose attempted clearance hit the post. The ball rebounded and was tapped in from close range by Sergeev. 2-0 within the first twenty minutes. Disastrous.
Uzbekistan didn't sit back and attacked again and again. India had only one good chance, that too from a long range effort by Naorem Mahesh. As has been the problem in the recent times, we won the ball back many times, but we couldn't do anything with it. There was no gameplan while attacking.

And Uzbekistan didn't let India off the hook. This time it was Nasrullaev who headed a cross from the right left on to the post, before putting in the rebound. 3-0 in the first half itself. Was there any way back? The coach looked lost for ideas, the players looked tired. Another Asian cup, another group stage exit. India were on the brink. The thirty eight thousand odd fans who had come to support the team desperately wanted to witness a comeback. 

And with back against the wall, the second half began. 48th minute of the game. A cross into the box from Mishra was poorly punched away by the Uzbek goalkeeper right into the path of Rahul KP. Rahul hit his shot first time and came agonizingly close as he hit the post. The ball fell was crossed back into the box for Sunil Chhetri, but he couldn't score from both his chances. India looked to attack, they wanted to mount a comeback. The crowd got behind the team. Was it possible to get anything from this game?

Next it was chance for Rahul Bheke to come close in the 71st minute. A corner from Brandon was met firmly by Rahul and was directed goal wards, only to be cleared by the Uzbek goalkeeper. India tried and tried again, but three big chances without conversion meant we never got back into the game. Uzbekistan came close as well, hitting the post in injury time. The score line read a comfortable 3-0 win for Uzbekistan, but the Indian team in the second half were a re-ignited and revamped squad. One can only wish they had shown the same passion and commitment in the first half.

One might say, India's story at this Asian cup has been a story of missed halves. Against Australia India defended well in the first half, but fumbled in the second. Against Uzbekistan, we were hammered in the first half, but showed some resiliency in the second. Almost all the goals conceded in the two games have come from defensive mistakes. One can only imagine what would have happened if our players could have maintained the same concentration for the whole 90 minutes.

Another hot topic among the Indian fans currently is the form of captain Sunil Chhetri. Sunil has been our captain, leader, legend for a long time now. Our talisman, record goal scorer. But, age eventually catches up to everyone. Even the nature's finest are not spared. One can only wonder, if India had started with a young forward, someone who has the tenacity, the pace and physicality that we lacked so much upfront in the games. India has a few prospects to already think of. Manvir is originally a centre forward. There is David from Mohammedan, there's Gurkirat from Mumbai, there's Kiyan from Mohun Bagan. Even Bidyasagar had been good when he was backed and played regularly in the I League. Maybe, it's the time to move on. Maybe it's the time for a reset. And that includes our goalkeeper too.

Gurpreet has been a pillar for India under the post. No Indian fan can ever forget his performance against Qatar in that famous draw away. But, currently he's been too error prone, both for club and country. We never thought we could move away from Subrata Paul, and then we got Gurpreet. A replacement will only be there if we give enough time, and invest enough faith to a youngster. 

India needs a reset at every level to be a force to reckon with, at least in Asia. The last game is against Syria on 23rd January. India needs to put everything into the game. Tactically, we have to be attacking from get go. Syria are no pushovers and under estimating them will spell doom for us. We need to be strong defensively and avoid making the careless mistakes. We need to remember, this is not the SAFF Cup, this is the Asian Cup. The levels are not the same. The stakes are not the same. 

More possession, more shots, more duels won etc. means nothing in football. The result matters. We remember India drew Qatar four years ago, how many of us remember India's possession stats from that game? Probably none. History is a river, it fades away the small pebbles along it's course. Creating history is an uphill task in itself for, the river listens to none. It flows at it's own sweet, and at times almost predictable, will. It is the will of the man that has made the river his resource. India has to show this will. A developing mindset needs to be let go off. Fans need to demand better standards. Enough of cabinet drama, grassroots circus and astrologer sagas. We need results, as simple as that.

Enough already with the "time and progress" agenda. Give the results the fans want, or just get away from this team. Indian Football existed before and it will be fine after. Take note of this, dear Indian football fans.


Gurpreet 5
Akash 5
Bheke 5
Sandesh 5
Poojary 5
Suresh 6
Apuia 6
Thapa 6
Mahesh 7
Chhetri 5
Manvir 5

Rahul KP 6
Udanta 5
Tangri 5
Brandon 6
Pandita 5

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