Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) (AFP) – India suffered late heart-break on Monday after an injury-time penalty saw the cricket-mad nation lose 1-0 to Bahrain and be denied a historic spot in the Asian Cup knockout stages.
Meanwhile hosts and India’s Group A rivals United Arab Emirates cemented their place as group winners after a 1-1 draw with Thailand in Al Ain that also saw the Thais progress.
India were moments away from reaching the knockout phase for the first time before Jamal Rashed scored a dramatic penalty to cruelly shattered their dreams and sneak Bahrain through.
After the defeat, India’s English coach Stephen Constantine announced he would step down after completing his second spell in charge.
India stunned Thailand 4-1 in their opening game for their first Asian Cup win in more than 50 years but a 2-0 defeat by UAE made for a nervous encounter in Sharjah.
Television showed cut-aways of India’s substitutes biting their fingernails throughout the match, while Constantine prowled the touchline in dark suit and sunglasses barking instructions to his players.
India were indebted to centre-back Sandesh Jhingan, who was being compared on Twitter to Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk by their legions of fans watching on TV back home.
The giant, bushy-bearded defender was immense, putting out fires all game to keep India’s clean sheet intact. But the Blue Tigers began to creak as the game wore on and survived a scare when substitute Mohamed Jasim Marhoon’s header rattled the post after 71 minutes.
India were clinging on for dear life by the end, at one point packing all 11 players on their own goal line to defend an indirect free kick.
– Rash foul –
Veteran striker Sunil Chhetri, who overtook Lionel Messi in international goals during the win over Thailand, flew out to get the crucial block.
Just as it looked like India would hold on for a famous point, Pronay Halder committed a rash foul and Rashed stepped up to smash the ball down the middle to knock India down to the bottom of the group and out of the tournament.
UAE finished with five points, one more than Thailand and Bahrain, who go through as one of the best third-placed teams.
It looked like being an easy night for the Emiratis when striker Ali Mabkhout, top-scorer at the 2015 tournament, netted after just seven minutes in Al Ain.
As the white shirts poured forward, Ismail Al Hammadi’s chipped shot came back off the bar and Mabkhout perfectly placed to nod home the rebound.