Dheeraj Singh shines bright in shootout

Fujairah (UAE), October 31

The Indian football team secured its best ever finish in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers by claiming the second spot in Group E as goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh made some spectacular saves to help the side win the penalty shootout 4-2 against Kyrgyz Republic after a 0-0 draw in regulation time.

Indian goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh made some spectacular saves as the team beat Kyrgyz Republic 4-2 in a penalty shootout. Photo: AIFF

With the match ending in a stalemate, both sides finished the group on four points apiece with the same goal difference (zero) and equal number of goals scored in all the matches (2). It then went down to a penalty shootout to decide the second and third positions in Group E, and India won 4-2.

Earlier, UAE beat Oman 2-0 to end as the toppers of Group E. The top team from each group qualifies directly for next year’s continental showpiece event, along with the four best second-placed teams across all groups. India now must wait till the conclusion of the other group matches to know if they can qualify for their maiden AFC U-23 Asian Cup. In the penalty shootout, Dheeraj started with a couple of spectacular saves while Rahul KP, Rohit Danu, Suresh Singh and Rahim Ali scored from the spot for India.

Stalemate

India’s Lalengmawia Ralte — aka Apuia — led the first attack on the Kyrgyz outfit with an attempt in the fifth minute but his long-ranger could not pose any threat to the goal. Two minutes later, Rahul at the left flank outran Kumarbai Uulu with sheer pace, but eventually Adilet Kanybekov neutralised his effort. The central Asian outfit sprang into life three minutes later when forward Alygulov Maksat was denied by Narender inside the 18-yard box and five minutes later, the youngster cancelled Tapaev Temirbolot’s right-footed curler.

In the 21st minute, Rahim shielded the ball off Artiukov Daniil before rolling it to an onrushing Vikram, whose left-footed effort flew away from the target. The forward made another pivotal move a minute later as he passed the ball to Amarjit, but the Manipuri midfielder skied his effort. The Kyrgyz team made a foray when Borubaev Gulzhigit beat the offside trap to outpace Asish Rai from the left, but Dheeraj came up with a spectacular save after the half-hour mark. Kyrgyz Republic showed more intent in the second half and came close to breaking the deadlock in the 50th minute but Maksat skied his effort.

India had their best possible chance halfway into the second half when Deepak Tangri attempted an acrobatic bicycle kick from handshaking distance, only to be thwarted by Kyrgyz goalkeeper Tokotaev Erzhan.

India again came close three minutes later, but Rahul’s fierce shot from 30 yards out ricocheted off the post. Vikram made an attempt on the rebound, but Erzhan denied him.

With just minutes of regulation time left, Suresh lobbed a looping free-kick and Deepak Tangri fired it from close range, only for the opposition goalkeeper to make yet another save. — Agencies

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