Doha: India Under-23 went down 3-1 to Qatar Under-23 in the first leg of their first round Pre-Olympic qualifier (AFC) at the Al Sadd Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
Jeje Lalpekhlua gave Bulpin`s boys an early lead and goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani saved a penalty but goals from Al Khalfan, Hassan Al Haidous and Mohammed El Neel gave the hosts a thoroughly deserved victory.
Desmond Bulpin named seven Indian Arrows players in the starting lineup and opted for the tried and tested 4-4-2 formation. Dempo keeper Laxmikant Kattimani got the nod ahead of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal.
Pune FC defender Gurjinder Kumar started at left back with Chirag’s Arnab Mondal partnering Raju Gaikwad at the heart of the central defence while Abhishek Das featured at right back.
The midfield four was entirely from the Indian Arrows side while C.S. Sabeeth, the hero of the second leg against Myanmar, partnered Jeje Lalpekhlua upfront.
Both teams started nervously as there were mistakes all over the pitch but the Indian midfield did press high up the pitch and won a series of throws.
Skipper Raju Gaikwad, who is a long throw specialist, caused problems with his long throws and from one such throw India took the lead through Jeje.
Raju’s long throw from the left flank wasn’t dealt with by the Qatar backline as India kept the ball alive with Jeje eventually slotting the ball home.
The goal got the Indians in the crowd excited but at the other end Arnab Mondal fouled Abdul Aziz Hatem to give away a penalty.
Qatar skipper Hassan Al Haidous stepped up to take the spot kick but it was a poor attempt and was saved by Kattimani, much to the delight of his teammates and the Indian fans.
But India’s lead didn’t last long as Hassan Al Haidous found Al Khalfan with a delightful through pass and the latter finished it by rounding off Kattimani to make it 1-1.
The goal seemed to galvanize the Qatar side as they started outplaying India in midfield and were threatening to take the lead.
India’s best form of attack where the long throws of Raju Gaekwad, which kept creating problems for the Qatar backline.
Five minutes before the break India created their best move of the match with Jeje at the heart of it. The Mizoram born striker exchanged passes with Jewel Raja but before he could take a shot on goal Qatar wingback Murad Naji got back at the vital moment and diverted it for a corner, from which India couldn’t capitalize
Qatar kept dominating possession but India limited them to very few clear cut chances and went into the break all square.
Bulpin’s side started the second half well as the midfield pressed the ball high up the pitch and won a throw in a promising position. Raju produced another gigantic delivery but unfortunately no Indian player could get on the end of it.
After that it was all Qatar as India just couldn’t get going in the remainder of the second period and looked tired.
Bernard Simondi’s team created a host of chances with the first one falling to Al Ansari, who turned away brilliantly from Arnab Mondal but his effort was off target.
A minute later the hosts went in front when skipper Hassan Al Haidous’ scorching effort from distance found its way past Kattimani.
The Dempo custodian was caught out by Haidous’ speculative effort and it gave Qatar a deserved lead.
India were getting totally outclassed and outrun by their Qatari counterparts and the score only remained 2-1 because of some poor finishing from Qatar.
Al Ansari was guilty in particular and midway through the second half he wasted a golden chance from six yards as he could only hit the bar.
But India couldn’t clear away the danger and substitute Mohammed El Neel saved Ansari’s blushes by netting Qatar’s third after finishing off an easy chance from close range.
Coach Bulpin introduced Zakeer Mundampara in place of Shilton D’Silva but the Churchill playmaker couldn’t really make an impact as India struggled to get hold of the ball.
The young Indian side could only create half chances from Raju’s long throws as Qatar enjoyed almost seventy percent of the ball possession.
Arnab Mondal did have a free header from a Lalrindika Ralte indirect freekick but it was straight into the hands of the Qatar keeper Saad Al Sheeb.
In injury time, Jeje did exceptionally well to win a free-kick just outside the box, which Lalrindika Ralte took but it lacked quality and was easily held by Al Sheeb.
From that freekick Qatar counter-attacked and could have easily made it 4-1 but Mohammed El Neel’s effort from close range was brilliantly saved by Kattimani onto the bar as India escaped.
Bulpin’s boys now have a real job in their hands in the second leg, which takes place at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune on Thursday 23rd June.