India played their penultimate game of the AFC U-23 Asian Championship 2022 qualifier in Fujairah against Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, UAE defeated Oman 2-0 earlier in the day, making the game a must-win encounter if they wanted to qualify as one of the best second-placed teams. With UAE's victory, India's chances of topping the group were over before the game began.
The match started with India following a careful approach - keeping the ball, and ensuring they didn't give the central Asian team any easy openings.
Rahul KP was responsible for a good move from the left wing in the seventh minute, but his cut-back cross was dealt with by the Kyrgyzstan defense.
The Indian trio of Suresh Singh, Amarjit Singh and Apuia tried to keep the midfield compact and provide ample support to the defenders. As a result, most of India's attacks happened from the wings.
As the game progressed, Kyrgyzstan slowly started finding their feet and began making inroads into the Indian box.
The scoreboard at halftime read 0-0
In the second half, Kyrgyzstan started playing more attacking football. On the other hand, India tried to keep things tidy and hit the central Asian team on the counter-attack.
Rahul KP hit the crossbar in the 73rd minute from a venomous strike while Vikram Pratap hit the rebound straight at the keeper. It was India's best move of the half.
Dheeraj Singh, the Indian goalkeeper, was in top form, making four world-class saves to deny Kyrgyzstan a sure goal. Both teams tried to score a goal in the final few minutes, with the game witnessing end-to-end action, but the keepers ensured that neither side conceded.
With this draw, both India and Kyrgyzstan finished on the same points and had the same record head to head. As per the rules, a penalty shootout was played to confirm which team secured the second spot in the group.
Rahul KP, Rohit Dhanu and Suresh Singh all managed to convert India's first three kicks in the penalty shootout. Meanwhile, Dheeraj Singh saved the first two kicks Kyrgyzstan took to give India an advantage in the shootout.
Ashish Rai failed to convert India's fourth kick while Kyrgyzstan converted their third and fourth kicks. Finally, Rahim Ali stepped up to take the fifth spot-kick, knowing very well that if he converted, India would win the shootout and secure a second-place finish in the group. The Chennaiyin FC striker made no mistake in converting the spot-kick and ensured India finished second in the group.
India finished second in the group but failed to qualify
Despite winning the shootout and finishing second, India's hopes of qualifying for the AFC U23 Championship in Uzbekistan were over. As per AFC's rules, while determining the four best 2nd placed teams in a group, the points accumulated against the fourth-placed team in the group are not counted as all the groups don't have an equal number of teams.
With Oman losing today, they finished fourth in the group, and since India won against Oman, the three points India gained from that game will not be taken into consideration. Had Kyrgyzstan won the penalty shootout and secured second spot, they would have qualified as they beat UAE and drew against India, which would have accounted for 4points.
Despite failing to qualify for the main round, the Indian U-23 team gave a good account of themselves during the tournament.