Denied a goal, India exit Merdeka after 2-4 loss – Hindustan Times

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Robbed a goal in a game they were generally on the wrong side of refereeing decisions, India rocked the framework once in each half, pinned Malaysia in their penalty area for most of the final quarter but lost 2-4 on a poor pitch at Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil stadium to exit the Merdeka tournament on Thursday. Malaysia will play Tajikistan on Tuesday to decide the winners.
Mahesh Naorem’s thunderous left-foot volley in the 13th minute had helped India neutralise Dionjohan Cools’ seventh-minute goal but through Arif Hanapi’s penalty in the 20th minute and Mohamed Halim’s strike in the 42nd, Malaysia led 3-1 at half-time.
India had pulled one back in the 51st minute through Sunil Chhetri and looked to have made it 3-3 in the 57th minute when Lallianzuala Chhangte’s shot had crossed the line before it was cleared.
To the visible disbelief of the India team and bench, the goal was disallowed by Thai referee Mongkolcha Pechhri. Making things worse was Malaysia scoring in the 61st minute after no one tracked Corbin Lawrence.
Not since June 5, 2019, had India taken in three goals in the first half. That was in Igor Stimac’s first match as head coach, against Curacao. On Friday, Stimac was lucky that it wasn’t four or more. Hanapi and Halim had Gurpreet Singh Sandhu at their mercy but couldn’t score in the 29th minute. Six minutes earlier. Darren Lok should have scored.
Both moves stemmed from India suffocating under the Malaysian press. As did the third goal when Hanapi hustled the ball off Mehtab Singh. Lok, Halim, Hanapi and Muhammad Rashid put India under pressure and with full backs too moving up, it was hard getting out.
It was harder keeping Malaysia out with Chhangte, Nikhil Poojary, Jhingan and Singh making mistakes against a team that at 134 is 32 places below India in FIFA rankings. The defensive frailties underscored the point Stimac makes: India need long training camps to get used to the intensity of international football.
It also showed that attacking full backs may not always be the right choice, especially against teams playing high up the pitch. Akash Mishra was tested by Hanapi from the start and it was when he got past the India left-back that Malaysia made it 4-2. And it was a push on Lok from right-back Poojary that led to the penalty. Subhasish Bose, a more orthodox left back, is injured but after this it could be worthwhile to also keep Pritam Kotal, who can play right-back and centre-back, in the mix.
Malaysia’s pressure also led to passes not going to feet as India fell away after a brisk start with Sahal Abdul Samad rocking the horizontal in the second minute. Malaysia scored first when India couldn’t clear a corner-kick and from a lucky deflection, Cools volleyed home.
Like Cools, who played for Belgium at youth level, Endrock Parafita, skipper Matthew Davies and Lok are naturalised Malaysians in a team for whom a Sergio Aguero came on in the second half. This player too was born in Argentina like his more famous namesake.
There was a touch of class about the equaliser. Naorem’s dream run that has seen him score against Iraq last month continued with a first-time left foot volley that gave goalie Ahmad Mohamed no chance. This was the one time that India had opened the right side of Malaysia’s defence through Poojary and Chhangte, the latter’s delivery being hooked into Naorem’s path by an audacious flick from Samad.
Always a threat with his speed and accuracy, Naorem’s delivery in the 73rd minute for Samad was so good that it merited more than Mohamed managing to stick a leg out and deny India. Five minutes earlier, Chhangte had blasted into the upright. Malaysia were tiring and as they tried to see out the game, India pushed up with Liston Colaco, who replaced Chhetri, adding speed to the frontline.
India had done that early in the first half to make it 2-3. From a fast break, Chhangte selflessly found Chhetri and the India skipper tapped in. 2-3 looked like 3-3 when Samad managed to get the ball away from a Malaysian player and find Chhangte whose shot had crossed the line before Cools cleared. The world saw it, the match officials didn’t.
Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.


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