India began their 2020 AFC U-19 Championship qualification campaign on a disappointing note as they suffered a 0-2 defeat against Uzbekistan in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
After a goalless first half, the Uzbeks scored twice in the second half to pick up the three points.
The match began with India earning the first chance of the game in the second minute. Gurkirat Singh latched on to a loose ball in the middle and charged towards goal, but his effort was off target.
Goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill, wearing the captain’s armband, was called into action three minutes later as he dealt with a cross from the left flank with confidence.
An important source of attacking threat for India was fullback Muhammed Rafi with his booming long throws into the penalty area. It almost paid dividends at the first attempt in the 16th minute with Uzbekistan needing a desperate clearance to get rid of the danger.
Six minutes later, there was another opportunity, this time through Vikram Partap Singh. Rafi’s throw-in wreaked havoc once again and after a weak effort from the Uzbek defence, the Indian forward looked to power home a first-time effort which went just wide of the goal.
Another chance came India’s way through forward Manvir Singh on the half-hour mark. With the Uzbekistan building from the back, the Indian attackers pressed with vigour to force the defence into committing mistakes as a clearance almost went into the net after rebounding off Manvir.
Uzbekistan also created a number of chances but were denied by Gill, who stood tall at the Indian goal and repelled whatever was thrown at him.
The Central Asian side’s best chance of the first half came in the 19th minute from a corner but Gill was alert to dive low and save the first-time shot. He was called upon yet again with two minutes to go for the break as he turned away a shot from distance from midfielder Ramozonov Diyor.
After the break, Uzbekistan won a free-kick in a dangerous area in the 52nd minute, with the shot hitting the Indian wall and going out of play. However, just a minute later, Khoshimov Ulugbek opened the scoring for Uzbekistan, converting a low cross from the right.
Gill produced a fine save in the 63rd minute as he pushed away a powerful effort from long range from Rakhimkulov Diyorbek. However, he could not do much as the Uzbeks scored again, this time through Olimjonov Muzaffar, who struck a first-time volley from close range.
The Indian team threw more men forward in search of a goal and came closest to scoring in the 80th minute, with Sumit Rathi getting his head to a long throw but his effort flew over the crossbar.
Vikram won India a free-kick a minute before the end of regulation time. Ninthoi went for a goal and his effort was a strong one but was saved by Uzbek custodian Nematov Abduvakhid.
India play hosts Saudi Arabia at the same venue on Friday.