A 77th-minute goal by Kaseem Al Zein crushed India’s hopes of retaining the third place in the 2023 King’s Cup as the Blue Tigers went down 0-1 against Lebanon.

Lebanon, who had failed to get better of India in their last three meetings in Bhubaneswar and Bangalore, proved to be third time lucky despite the Indians putting immense pressure on the rival defence.

Just when it looked like India would force open the Lebanon defence at any moment, things completely went the other way as the west Asian side made most of a corner kick.

Though Indian goalkeeper Sandhu managed to palm away the first attempt, he had no time to do an encore when Kaseem Al Zein went for a spectacular acrobatic back volley from close range. It was a goal that certainly came against the run of play but made all the difference as the Indians failed to come up with a reply during the rest of the match.

Thus India -— the bronze medal winners in 2019, finished their King’s Cup campaign without a win.

While their semi-final clash against mighty Iraq ended in a defeat in tie-breaker after a spirited 2-2 draw in the regulation time, the third-place battle against Lebanon was lost after the Indians let go of several scoring opportunities.

Going by the trend of the match, India had no reason to troop out of the pitch as the team, who finished on the losing side. The Blue Tigers teased and tormented the rival defence time and again, only to find themselves short on decision-making at the goalmouth.

Everyone in the attacking line had their share of chances, the Lebanon defence was on their knees at times, only to heave a sigh of relief when the Indians faltered at the front at repeatedly.

India were not short of ideas in the middle. They created chances – Manvir Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte dashed from both flanks to regularly keep the Lebanon goalkeeper on his toes, but when the real chances came the ball either flew over the bar or went wide of the target, much to the dismay of the fans in the stands.

If this was the story in the first half, then the script hardly changed for the next 45 minutes. Igor Stimac played all his permutations and combinations in quick succession, but an Indian goal remained elusive.

The five changes Stimac made in the second half did give the required impetus to the attack but when push came to shove, neither Brandon Fernandes nor Rahul KP could do the needful. It was one of those days when the goalmouth remained tightly shut for the Indian forwards.

In the last 10 minutes India camped themselves in the Lebanon area, hoping for the equaliser. But credit to Lebanon, as they not only held on to their lead grimly but made sure India hardly got a clear view of their goal.