Facing Syria in an inconsequential encounter, India produced their best football of the Intercontinental Cup to play out a 1-1 draw in the final league match of the tournament at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad, on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old defender Narender Gahlot gave India the lead in the 52nd minute of the match. Playing in his second international match, Gahlot scored from a header. However, the joy was short-lived as the visiting team equalized in the 78th minute, after Firas Al Khatib netted the ball from a spot-kick.
India, who had earlier lost against Tajikistan and North Korea, brought eight changes into their starting eleven. But after a vigorous round of experimentation with the squad that resulted in defeats in the first two games of the tournament, the changes seemed to have worked rightly in the home team’s favour.
The men in blue looked more consolidated and agile in their attack, with a potent midfield playing in high spirits. Amarjit Singh and Sahal Samad produced a brilliant display of intent and grit, while Sunil Chhetri led the attacking front in his usual self.
Despite missing the star defender Sandesh Jhingan, the defence played out to be the most impressive department with the back-four of Gahlot, Rahul Bheke, Pritam Kotal and Mandar Rao Desai producing a much-improved performance.
After a goalless first half, India started the next one with a positive approach and won a corner in the 51st minute. Gahlot, towering above everyone else, connected Anirudh Thapa’s corner kick to give India the lead in front of an enthusiastic Indian crowd in the stands. But the cheering went all silent after Al Khatib defeated the Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from a spot kick to make the scoreline 1-1.