India dished out a gritty performance to rattle hosts Qatar but eventually lost by a solitary goal to exit from the AFC U-23 Championships qualifiers here. The Indians dominated the second half and almost found the equalizer but only for the woodwork to deny them. But Almoez Ali's 54th-minute strike made all the difference at the Al Sadd Stadium last night. With the narrow win, Qatar took a major step towards the 2018 AFC U-23-Championship in China. They now have six points from two matches and need just a point from their last match against Syria to emerge as the group winners.
For India, it was their second consecutive defeat after their loss against Syria in their campaign opener. Qatar, the more fancied side, struggled to find their rhythm as India put up a spirited performance.
After a drab first half in which chances were few for both sides, India's Lallianzuala Chhangte let fly a left footer from distance that flew centimeters over the bar. But a few minutes later it was Qatar who were celebrating.
Almoez chased a high pass and challenged Indian goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, who made a mess of the ball allowing the Qatari striker to slot the ball into an empty net.
Several hundred Indian fans in the stadium thought their team had scored the equaliser when Manvir Singh sneaked in behind the Qatar defence to connect a low cross from the left but, with the home side goalkeeper Mohammad Ahmed Al Bakari completely beaten, the ball crashed against the under side of the bar and bounced on the goal line.
Though Jerry Lalrinzuala got a second chance, his header sailed over. Spurred by their own efforts and the cheering crowd, India came hard at Qatar in the last few minutes, but the hosts though rattled, held on.
Substitute Lalhlimpuia Daniel tested Al Bakari in added time with a powerful shot from distance, and though the keeper could only parry it back into play, Lallianzuala Chhangte's follow up attempt was weak.
India coach Stephen Constantine said he was proud of his players though they lost because of a "silly mistake".
"Congratulations to Qatar. They were fortunate to score a goal. I am proud of my players. Some of the boys were playing international football for the first time and they didn't deserve to lose this game," he said.
"We lost because of another silly mistake. Another day, it would have hit the crossbar and gone inside (about India's chance). They have shown fantastic determination."
Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said, "It was a tough match but we got all three points. India played a tough game and we didn't play our game. In the second half, we had some good moments but in the last 20 minutes, we had a tough time.
"Our aim is to ensure qualification in the next game.
Syria have very strong potential and it's going to be a tough game against them."