The Indian men’s football team suffered tight loss, on Thursday, as they went down 5-4 on penalites against a higher ranked Iraq team in the semi-final of the King’s Cup in Thailand.
It was a typical story of so near and yet so far for India as they played their hearts out to hold Iraq to a 2-2 draw in 90 minutes before losing in the shootout.
The Blue Tigers twice took the lead against the 70th ranked team, only to find the lead getting cancelled by the two spot kicks awarded against them.
However the story that unfolded will be remembered for a long time, as India came agonisingly close to securing their first-ever win over Iraq.
The defeat also marked the end of India’s unbeaten streak of 12 matches as they suffered their first loss of the year.
The early stages of the match showcased India’s determination. Naorem Mahesh Singh ignited Indian hopes when he found the back of the net in the 16th minute as he smoothly capitalised on a sublime pass from Sahal Abdul Samad. It was a moment of brilliance as Mahesh deceived Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hasan by slotting the ball past him at the near post.
However, Iraq responded switfly, drawing level in the 28th minute from the penalty spot. Al-Hamadi calmly converted the spot-kick after Sandesh Jhingan was penalised for a handball.
The Lions of Mesopotamia then continued to press and came close to taking the lead only to be thwarted by India’s vigilant goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
The second half began with a twist that favoured India. A rare mistake by Iraq’s goalkeeper Hasan gifted them the lead. Akash Mishra, who was played into the Iraq box on the right, sent in a low and cross which was mishandled by Hasan as the ball trickled into the net.
With a 2-1 lead, India shifted their focus to defence, putting up a resolute barrier that denied Iraq any room to manoeuvre.
However, a second penalty for Iraq in the 80th minute breathed new life into the contest. Aymen Ghadhban earned the spot-kick after an aerial duel with Nikhil Poojary and Jhingan. Ghadhban converted, levelling the score once again.
Iraq were then reduced to 10 men as Zidane Iqbal received a red card for a reckless challenge on Brandon Fernandes. But there was hardly time for India to take advantage as the match headed to a shoot-out.
The shootout was a test of nerves but it ultimately favoured Iraq, who converted all their penalties to secure a spot in the final. Fernandes’ missed penalty was a rare blemish in an otherwise outstanding performance by the Indian team.
Although India fell short in the semi-final, they still have a chance to claim third place in the tournament, as they are set to compete in the third-place playoff match on Sunday.