The India U-23 national team went down fighting 0-2 to Syria U-23 in their opening encounter of the AFC U-23 Championship China 2018 Qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Wednesday (July 19, 2017). Both teams were locked goalless at the interval. The India U-23 boys next play hosts and group favourites Qatar U-23 in their next match on Friday (July 21).
India began on a cautious note and pressed hard in their effort to unsettle the physically superior Syrians. The first chance of the day fell to striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia but the ex-AIFF Academy cadet could not make the most of the opportunity.
Nikhil Poojary on the right flank kept the rival defence busy with his incisive crosses, as the Indian midfield preferred to rotate from one side to the other.
The high point for India came in the 37th minute when a string of passes found the tireless Germanpreet Singh in the clear but his prompt right-footer rebounded off the post for a corner.
The resultant corner, a long one from Anirudh Thapa was met by Nishu Kumar from the top of the box but it missed by a whisker as both teams headed to the interval locked goalless.
Changing over, striker Manvir Singh came close to scoring the opener but his header landed safely into the Syrian goalkeeper’s gloves.
As the game neared the hour-mark, Indians appeared to lose the plot a bit – skipper Lalruatthara and Nishu Kumar going into the referee’s book for challenges.
Syria went ahead in the 64th minute – striker Rabie Srour lobbing it over Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith who was caught out of position – central defender Salam Ranjan Singh’s valiant attempt to keep off the lob not being successful.
India’s first substitution came in the 72nd minute – Hitesh Sharma coming in for Daniel. Head Coach Stephen Constantine followed it up with a double substitution in the 81st minute – Sarthak Golui and Robinson Singh coming in for Lalruatthara and Anirudh Thapa respectively.
Three minutes later, Nikhil Poojary powered another cross from the right flank but it Hitesh mistimed his leap to find the elusive equaliser.
Syria sealed the fate of the match in the 88th minute – Fares Arnaout doubling the score for them.