India’s football campaign ended in the Asian Games after Sunil Chhetri-led side went down 0-2 to Saudi Arabia in their pre-quarter final match at the Huanglong Sports Center Stadium in Hangzhou, China on Thursday.
A half brace by Mohammed Khalil Marran (51’, 57’) sent India packing out of the Games. Earlier this week the women’s team had failed to progress beyond the group stage.
In FIFA rankings, India is world No. 102 while Saudi Arabia are 57th. Men’s football tournaments at Asian Games, however, are under-23 affairs with each team being allowed a maximum of three players over the age limit.
The men in blue lost to China 5-1 in the opener before beating Bangladesh 1-0 and holding Myanmar to a 1-1 draw. India finished second in Pool A behind China to seal a pre-quarterfinal spot. Saudi Arabia finished second in Pool B behind Iran with two wins and a draw.
India opened with a 4-4-2 formation and defended deep. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, played long balls into the Indian half in order to put pressure on the rival backline. The Indian defence, led by veteran Sandesh Jinghan, held firm to keep the Saudi forwards at bay.
While Saudi Arabia enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, India resorted to counterattacks and carved out two decent chances around the 15-minute mark.
Sunil Chhetri won the ball in the opponent’s half but his shot went straight to the goalkeeper. Minutes later, the Indian captain found Sandesh Jhingan from a free-kick but the Indian defender’s header was cleared from the goal line.
After the two letoffs, Saudis went on the offensive. The Green Falcons almost scored the goal when Musab Al-Juwayr’s right-footed shot beat the goalkeeper Dheeraj but hit the woodwork.
Saudis attacked the Indian half in waves and it took some last-ditch defending by the defenders kept the scoreline level.
Saudi Arabia came close to scoring in the dying minutes of the first half when Zakaria Hawsawi broke into the Indian half and shot at goal but Sandesh Jinghan managed to block the ball.
The second half saw Saudi Arabia kick up a couple of gears and India failed to cope. After 10 minutes of constant pressure, Saudi Arabia finally managed to take the lead through Mohammed Khalil Marran, who headed a cross past Dheeraj Singh.
Minutes later, Mohammed Khalil Marran was in the thick of the action yet again and doubled Saudi’s lead. The forward received a through ball inside the box before sidestepping the goalkeeper to slot it into the back of the net (2-0).
After the second goal, the Saudis controlled the game and saw off the win to progress to the final eight.
India has twice won the gold medal (1951 and 1962) at the Asian Games. The last time India reached the round of 16 was in 2010, when they lost 5-0 to Japan.