3 top performers for India from their defeat against Uzbekistan in AFC Asian Cup 2023

India football team
India's Apuia Ralte in action against Uzbekistan (Image Credits: AIFF Media)

On a night when India needed to make a strong statement, the Blue Tigers suffered a 0-3 defeat to superior opponents, Uzbekistan, in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 on Thursday.

It was always going to be difficult to compete against a team of Uzbekistan’s caliber, but India’s disastrous start at the back, combined with the former’s effectiveness, proved to be the difference.

The White Wolves took an early lead with a goal from 20-year-old Abbosbek Fayzullayev, before quickly doubling it through Igor Sergeev. Just as India started gaining momentum towards the end of the first half, Nasrulloev’s strike effectively sealed the fate of the game.

Despite a much-improved second-half performance, marked by sustained possession and numerous clear-cut chances for the Blue Tigers, the contrasting quality between the teams in both penalty boxes was evident.

There were, however, some notable positives for India, particularly in the attacking department. On that note, here are the top three performers for India against Uzbekistan in the Group B clash.

#3 Apuia Ralte

India struggled to get a grip in midfield in their first game, which necessitated the need to improve their performance and maintain their composure if they were to have any chance of winning against Uzbekistan.

Apuia was the player the Blue Tigers’ back four relied on to progress with the ball. The Mumbai City man did an excellent job of sitting in front of the defence and relieving pressure – a facet of the game that was missing in the previous game.

As India gradually found their footing in the second half, Apuia transitioned into a more advanced role and displayed his range of passing. Notably, he made the most passes into the final third among any Indian player.

Although he certainly wasn’t at his very best, Apuia stood out as one of India’s key players, providing a positive spark in an otherwise lackluster display.

#2 Rahul KP

Down 3-0 at half-time, Igor Stimac decided to replace the struggling Manvir Singh with 23-year-old Rahul KP. This was a bold move, given that Stimac had the experienced Udanta Singh on the bench, who had a similar skill set.

Rahul KP lived up to his manager’s expectations, emerging as a difference-maker from the moment he stepped on the pitch. Only five minutes after his introduction, he had India’s most promising opportunity, but his powerful volley hit the post and deflected out.

Displaying both pace and trickery, the Kerala Blasters winger consistently troubled Uzbekistan’s left-back, Nasrulloev, who was pinned back in the second half. He was also India’s outlet on the counter-attack, and while his decision-making was inconsistent at times, Rahul had a significant impact when the team had sustained spells of possession.

#1 Naorem Mahesh Singh

Mahesh Singh has been India’s breakout star in 2023, and the East Bengal winger has seamlessly carried his impressive form into 2024. Despite a sluggish start to the game marked by occasional lapses in possession, Mahesh gradually found his rhythm and established a solid partnership with Akash Mishra on the left flank.

In addition to his quality on the ball, Mahesh’s reading of the game and movement also stood out. His decision-making on the ball was particularly impressive, and it is an area where many Indian players have struggled when competing against elite teams.

His powerful long-range attempt came close to finding the net, testing Yuspov and prompting him to make an important save. The 24-year-old displayed not only technical proficiency but also composure, and was undoubtedly India's best player against Uzbekistan.

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Edited by Ankush Das
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