Dammam, Saudi Arabia: India secured a spot in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup 2023 football championship despite a 1-2 loss at the hands of hosts Saudi Arabia in their final qualification match at the Prince Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Stadium here on Sunday night.
The Blue Colts got their qualification by virtue of being one of the six best second-placed teams across the 10 groups of the qualifying tournament.
Earlier in the competition, India had notched up a hat trick of wins against the Maldives (5-0), Kuwait (3-0) and Myanmar (4-1).
The first half began with high intensity and six minutes in, Thanglalsoun Gangte received the ball in a dangerous position in the penalty area. However, it was cleared away at the last moment as the striker looked to turn and shoot.
India’s best chance of the half came in the 14th minute after Lalpekhlua found Korou Singh with a delightful cross from the left flank. The winger fired his shot on target but it was saved by the goalkeeper.
From the resulting corner kick, Danny Meitei curled the ball in towards the near post and it almost trickled past the goalline after wreaking havoc in the Saudi defence.
The hosts created scoring opportunities across the first 45 minutes as well, with India goalkeeper Sahil making a couple of sharp saves and Mukul Panwar making an excellent block to deny Nawaf Aljadaani in the 38th minute.
Saudi Arabia scored the only goal of the half on the 22nd-minute mark, with Talal Haji finding the corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
After the break, the hosts created the first major chance as Haji took a direct free-kick from 20 yards but fired it over the crossbar.
However, he doubled his side’s advantage in the 58th minute after scoring from a penalty kick.
Korou came close in the 70th minute with a diving header. Three minutes later, Gangte snuck in
a sharp shot at the near post but was denied by a remarkable save by the Saudi Arabia custodian,
as India put on a determined late surge.
Both sides traded blows right till the end and in the last minute of stoppage time, Gangte put India
on the scoreboard as he fired home an expertly-taken finish. The match ended 1-2 in favour of the home team despite a spirited effort from the Indian side.
India U17 Starting XI: Sahil (GK), Ricky Meetei Haobam, Mukul Panwar, Manjot Singh Dhami,
Gurnaj Singh Grewal, Korou Singh Thingujam, Lalpekhlua, Thanglalsoun Gangte, Vanlalpeka
Guite (C), Malemngamba Singh Thokchom, Danny Meitei Laishram