India played their toughest opponent of their 2011 AFC Asian Cup preparations so far and suffered a 0-2 loss at the hands of defending Asian champions Iraq at the Al Shaab Stadium in Sharjah. It was a lovely atmosphere on a nice, warm Sharjah evening with numerous Iraqi fans turning up for the match and giving it a festive feeling. Hopefully for the next matches more Indian fans will turn up and support Team India. They boys need it!
The defending Asian champions Iraq made their intensions clear from the beginning as they attacked the Indian goal from the start. The danger from a second minute corner was defused by Subrata Pal's one handed clearance, but it only went as far as an Iraqi midfielder whose shot luckily went straight to Subrata. India's first chance was freekick from around 35 metres out, but Surkumar's effort went way over. India's game plan was clear, take a wait and watch approach, try the long ball for the strikers or move-up over the quick wingers Steven Dias and Anthony Pereira, and then get crosses in for Abhishek Yadav, Sushil Kumar Singh and a upmoving Rakesh Masih. It did work for Steven a couple of times, but Anthony didn't get the chance to really get a cross in.
But then Subrata Pal brought down striker Mustafa Kareem in the area in the 16th minute. The referee correctly pointed to the dreaded spot, hands Subrata a yellow card and the fouled Mustafa Kareem himself takes the spot kick. Kareem send Subrata the wrong way to give Iraq the lead in the 17th minute. And Ahmed Ayad could have doubled the lead in the 22nd minute with a free header from the right, but he places it wide of the goal. India's best chance of the match till then came in the 29th minute of a Sushil Kumar Singh long ranger which Iraq keeper Ali Mutashar could just about block, but Abhishek Yadav wasn't able to place the ball into the goal as Mutashar was able to recover in time. Iraq continued to have more of the game up to the breather, but the chances weren't as convincing as in the first half an hour. The team from the Gulf took a deserving lead into the break, but the Indians were putting up a great fight against a superior opponent.
Bob Houghton made two changes at the break. He took off left back Syed Rahim Nabi and striker Abhishek Yadav to replace them with Mahesh Gawli and Mohammed Rafi. Initially the second session was played in the Indian half with goal scorer Mustafa Kareem the dangerman for the Iraqis. He could have added a second in the 53rd minute after a scramble in the box, but Subrata and the Indian defenders were lucky not to concede a second. India needed about ten minutes to get a feel of the second session and then it was once more an even game with loads of action in the midfield. In this phase of the match the Iraqis used their right flank a lot with a number of crosses coming in, but often they landed in the safe hands of Subrata Pal or the ball flew behind the goal. Iraqi captain Mahdi Kareem then doubled the lead in the 66th minute of a rebound after Subrata Pal couldn't hold to a hard shot, with Gouramangi denying Mustafa Kareem a simple tap in, but Mahdi Kareem beautifully curled the ball into the far corner of the goal.
Iraq build on the pressure as India were less and less able to get out of their own half. In the 75th minute Salih Sadeer could have made it three with a nice turn and shot, but it just went wide. India's best chance of the second session once more fell to Sushil as in the 79th minute a Surkumar cross from the right travels across the face of the box, but Sushil's header was too weak to bother Ali Mutashar in the Iraq goal. In the 84th minute Iraq once more had a combination of chances to score their third but Subrata and the Indian defenders did their best to keep the scoreline at 0-2. What India hadn't been able to do in 90 minutes an Iraqi defender nearly did as he nearly put a Climax Lawrence header into his own goal. The resultant Renedy corner was headed over by Sushil. And after four minutes of injury time the referee called it a day as India lose 0-2 against the defending Asian champions Iraq.
A tough match for Team India against a superior opponent. This is the level of competition we will face at the Asian, so we will need more of these matches to prepare ourselves for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Next up Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates other the next week in further international friendlies.
India 0-2 (0-1) Iraq - Goals: 0-1 Mustafa Kareem (17', pen), 0-2 Mahdi Kareem (66')
1-Subrata Pal; 17-Irungbam Surkumar Singh (84' 12-Deepak Kumar Mondal), 19-Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh, 5-Anwar, 22-Syed Rahim Nabi (46' 14-Mahesh Gawli); 23-Steven Benedic Dias (71' 8-Renedy Singh), 41-Rakesh Masih (82' 6-Baldeep Singh), 30-Climax Lawrence [C], 28-Anthony Pereira; 9-Abhishek Yadav (46' 26-Mohammed Rafi), 18-Sushil Kumar Singh
Substitutes: 16-Jagroop Singh, 27-Mehrajuddin Wadoo
1-Ali Mutashar, 16-Samal Saeed, 23-Saad Attiya, 30-Ahmed Ibrahim, 27-Haider Abdulameer (64' 29-Aws Ibrahim), 5-Nashat Akram, 11-Hawar Mohammed (46' 6-Salih Sadeer), 19-Ahmed Ayad, 25-Saad Abdulameer, 18-Mahdi Kareem [C] (82' 33-Ammar Kaem), 9-Mustafa Kareem (74' 21-Amjed Radhi)
Substitutes: 2-Mohammed A. Kareem, 7-Emad Mohammed, 12-Mohammeed Kasid, 20-Muthana Khalid, 22-Haidar Raad, 26-Mohammed Qabil, 28-Khalid Musheer, 32-Hamadi Ahmed