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Myanmar 1-0 India – 2014 Challenge Cup qualification in jeopardy after narrow defeat

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Myanmar 1 (Soe Min Oo 75) – 0 India

Myanmar: Thiha Si Thu; Zaw Min Htun, Aung Hein Kyaw, Pyae Phyo Aung, Thet Naing; Yan Aung Kyaw, Kyaw Zayar Win, Kyi Lin, David Htan (Naing Lin Oo 69), Pai Soe (Soe Min Oo 50); Ya Zar Win Thein (Ye Zaw Htet Aung 90+1)

India: Subrata Pal; Denzil Franco, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Eknath Gaikwad, Gurjinder Kumar; Francis Fernandes (Syed Rahim Nabi 82), Lenny Rodrigues (Arata Izumi 71), Mehtab Hossain, Clifford Miranda, Jewel Raja (Robin Singh 77); Sunil Chhetri

India went down 1-0 against hosts Myanmar in the final Group A game of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar on Wednesday, and thus failed to qualify automatically for Maldives 2014.

Wim Koevermans’ side needed only a point to win the group and qualify, but a lack of positivity saw them eventually concede in the second half, as Soe Min Oo’s goal proved to be the winner. India finish second in the group with six points and a goal difference of +4.

India’s qualification hopes are no longer in their hands, and they must hope that the second-placed teams of groups B and E finish with an inferior record, as Group D runners-up Bangladesh have already toppled Koevermans’ team with six points and a goal difference of +5.

Wim Koevermans made just one change to the lineup, as Francis Fernandes replaced reigning AIFF Player of the Year Syed Rahim Nabi in right midfield. The Dutch coach once again opted for a 4-4-1-1 system, as the in-form Jewel Raja started behind lone striker Sunil Chhetri.

The onus was on Myanmar to take the game to India, as they needed three points to qualify automatically, and the hosts were keeping the ball well.

India were looking to play on the break but nearly conceded in the 17th minute, when a cross from Myanmar’s right flank found Kyaw Zayar Win inside the box, but his effort was way off target.

There was a decent turnout at the Thuwunna Youth Training Center Stadium, but the home crowd couldn’t see their team create any more clear cut openings in the first half.

India too were struggling to create opportunities, and they had to use Raju Gaikwad’s long throws at every opportunity to trouble Myanmar.

From one such throw Sunil should have opened the scoring, but he failed to get a clean touch to Gouramangi Singh’s flick on.

India ended the first half very strongly, as they got behind the Myanmar defence on a couple of occasions but both Clifford Miranda and Jewel failed to find a teammate.

In between those two openings, Pune FC defender Gurjinder Kumar wasted a free header from Mehtab Hossain’s corner.

Myanmar’s South Korean coach Park Sung-Hwa made a positive change just five minutes after the restart, as striker Soe Min Oo replaced midfielder Pai Soe.

That substitution started to work brilliantly in favour of Myanmar, as Min Oo was combining well with starlet Kyi Lin, and that combination should have produced the opening goal as the duo’s interplay eventually set up Ya Zar Win Thein, but he fluffed his chance from close range.

The pressure on the Indian goal was mounting, with Kyi Lin also producing a smart save off Subrata Pal.

India were playing on the break in the second half also, but their final ball lacked quality each time, and it was only from the long throws of Raju that they looked like scoring.

Koevermans’ team were finding it difficult to cope with the pace and movement of the Myanmar players, and that saw them give away plenty of fouls. India had a penalty shout as well when Jewel fell down inside the box after some pressure from a Myanmar defender, but the referee waved play on.

Arata Izumi was introduced in place of Lenny Rodrigues, but what India really needed was a goalscorer like Robin Singh, or the creativity of Nabi.

But for all Myanmar’s possession and penetration, India could have easily taken the lead in 72nd minute when Francis Fernandes’ shot from just outside the box took a touch off Myanmar keeper and captain Thiha Si Thu and hit the post.

Three minutes later, India conceded. A fine team move from Myamar saw Pyae Phyo Aung send in a low cross from the left which was parried away by Subrata, but Min Oo pounced on the rebound and found the back of the net.

India could and should have been level when Raju’s long throw found Arata free in the box but the Japanese-born player’s effort was straight at Si Thu.

Nabi and Robin were brought on in the closing stages, but they didn’t have enough time to influence the game, as Myanmar held on to qualify automatically for the 2014 Challenge Cup.

India must wait now and hope for a favour from other teams, and run the danger of missing out on the Challenge Cup for the very first time. That would prematurely end their Australia 2015 dream, of course.

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