Manager Stephen Constantine believed India squandered “enough chances to win two games” as his energetic and enterprising young team ultimately lost 2-0 to a more clinical UAE at the Asian Cup.
Khalfan Mubarak put the Whites 1-0 up in the first half against the run of play. And as the Blue Tigers pressed for an equaliser but ran out of steam after the interval, deadly Ali Mabkhout wrapped up the points with a killer late second.
Defeat still leaves India in good shape to make the round of 16 though, following their opening 4-1 victory over Thailand.
And their English coach Constantine told his India players in the aftermath of defeat that they are going to go and win their final Group A game against Bahrain on Monday and qualify for the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup – for the first time in more than 50 years.
Constantine, in charge since 2015, said: “We created enough chances to win two games, not one.
“The problem is when you don’t convert them, they come back and make you pay for it. In the last game we converted, this game we didn’t.
“I think the UAE had three shots on target (six), one hit the post and the other two went in. I think we deserved a draw at least but if you don’t convert your chances, you are made to pay.
“I have 23 bitterly disappointed boys in there and I think that speaks volumes. A couple of years ago we’d have come here, lost 2-0 and been quite happy. They know we could have taken something from this game. But we have another one and we look forward to Bahrain.”
India are appearing at just their fourth Asian Cup and failed to go beyond the initial phase in both 1984 and 2011. They finished runners-up in just a four-team tournament in 1964 though and a young squad is winning admirers in the Emirates.
The Blue Tigers have an average age of just under 25, with only three players in the squad over 30 – including skipper Sunil Chhetri, 34, his nation’s leading appearance maker and goalscorer.
India twice hit the bar and wasted a slew of decent chances, with Chhetri and Pritam Kotal both guilty of missing opportunities to break the deadlock in the first half.
Mubarak and then Mabkhout made them pay, with Constantine ruing the fact his side were not as clinical as in the 4-1 thrashing of Thailand in their opener.
Constantine added: “I just told them ‘pick your heads up, you didn’t lose this game’, if you know what I mean. We played very well and could have won it.
“We have another game in four days’ time and we’re going to win it and qualify. I can’t ask any more from the players. They gave everything they had as they do every time they play for India and I’m very proud of them.
“We’ll give anyone a game, that’s clear from today, Thailand and during qualifying. Many of the UAE players told me ‘we didn’t think you were that good’, which is nice, but at the end of the day we lost.”
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