Dreams shattered, but the hope lives on after India faces reality check in AFC Asian Cup
DOHA — After India’s campaign in the AFC Asian Cup 2023, sustained a serious dent on Thursday night when they went down to Uzbekistan 0-3 in a Group B encounter, head coach Igor Stimac expressed his apologies to the fans, who have supported the team in great numbers.
After the valiant performance against the mighty Australians, the Blue Tigers went into the game against a battle-hardened Uzbekistan on Thursday night to express themselves and try to play the game in a manner that is more becoming to their beautiful fans.
The two matches against Australia (0-2) and Uzbekistan (0-3) came as a clear reality check for the work that needs to be done in the days ahead.
Nearly 40,000 fans had turned up at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Doha on Thursday, most of them Indians.
“We are very sad about disappointing the fans, but that’s what we have to live with at the moment. I want to tell them that I’m sorry that it couldn’t happen in this match, but please keep supporting these guys. They will bring lots of happiness later this year,” Stimac said.
For skipper Sunil Chhetri and the boys, matches like these against the big dogs of Asia remain a humbling yet learning experience.
“We’ve improved a lot in the last five years, but there’s a lot to learn, especially when you play teams like these. It’s not easy when you face teams like Uzbekistan and Australia,” said the India captain.
“The good thing is that the boys gave us whatever we had. We made some mistakes in the first half that cost us dearly. We now need to go back and watch the replays and figure out the areas where we need to improve,” added Chhetri.
However, football at the top echelons in Asia is a demanding game, and while the Blue Tigers went searching for the three points, keeping the majority of possession (52 percent), and clocking more accurate passes (82 percent to Uzbekistan’s 81) and more corners (four to Uzbekistan’s one), the Central Asian side hit where it hurt most. “They took their chances,” said India head coach.
“They were far more clinical than us. They didn’t give away anything. And whatever problems we had, came from ourselves. We allowed them to take those chances. That’s the difference.
“Overall, the boys have been fantastic. They have trained well and maintained discipline. But at this level, there’s never a convenient time to concede goals. If you allow time and space to a side like Uzbekistan, they will kill you.
“We need to work on ourselves, close these gaps in our game, and look forward to winning the crucial matches that lie ahead of us,” Stimac said.
For all their possession and intent to play football, it was in the final third, arguably the most important area of the pitch, where India were lacking. A first-half strike by Mahesh Naorem Singh from outside the box, a Rahul KP shot that crashed into the woodwork in the second half, followed by a Rahul Bheke header that caused some angst among the Uzbek back line, were all that India had to show for their intent to play the game.
Uzbekistan, on the other hand, had 18 shots, seven of them on target.