The crowd was deafening. There were drums, there were bugles. But more than anything else, it was the passion for cheering for your own country. The vocal chords surpassed everything else, though at times, you may have missed your cotton buds. The decibel levels were too high, but none minded. It was all for football.
Add to that the cool breeze under the lights at a temperature of around 30 degrees, it was perhaps, the best atmosphere to play the game.
Backed on, hosts Myanmar scraped past India by a solitary goal in the last Group League match of Group A of the AFC Challenge Cup 2014 at the Yangon Training Centre. Substitute Soe Min Oo made the difference between the two teams in the 75th minute.
Courtesy the victory, Myanmar topped Group A with seven points and qualified for the final phase of the Tournament to be played in Maldives in 2014. India finished second on six points.
“We have ourselves to blame. We just couldn’t keep the ball and gave it away too often. It was a must-win match for Myanmar,” National Coach Wim Koevermans said after the match.
“But at the same time, we had three positive chances in the first-half and one in the second-half which hit the post. Against a team as Myanmar, you need to capitalise on them. If not, you will be punished. I congratulate Myanmar for the performance,” he added. Myanmar were also alert to have made a goalline save in the dying minutes.
You can never counter what Koevermans said. India did start on a positive note. In the first half, they played the tactical game preferring to wait at times and trying to exploit the gaps in the Myanmar midfield. There was a penchant for stretching it to the flanks and the ploy worked.
If you simply go by the number of chances created in the first half, the Indians had “three positive ones” each of them which could have yielded a goal.
The first one came in the 16th minute when Clifford Miranda’s powerful blaster from inside the box thundered against the boards instead of the next. The next one came in the 43rd minute — Clifford, well placed inside the box to take a cracker, tried to find Sunil Chhetri allowing the Myanmar defence to recover.
In the very next minute, Mehtab Hossain’s through set up Jewel Raja Shaikh on the right. Jewel entered the box with Sunil preferring to do the dummy. Much to the relief of the crowd, Jewel preferred to find Sunil rather than going himself and both the teams went into the resumption goalless.
These apart, there were series of corners earned in the first half along with a number of throw-ins around the Myanmar box, all of which were floated in by Raju Gaikwad. The closest India came was in the 35th minute when his throw venomously dipped and beat all even as Sunil Chhetri tried to flick it in.
Myanmar were quick in their counter-attacks. Gurjinder Kumar was yellow carded for tripping Kyi Lin from behind in the 17th minute. Lin was initiating a counter attack and had with a deft turn, got past Gurjinder.
Post resumption, Myanmar were off the blocks faster. The first positive chance came in the 51st minute but Subrata Paul, till then, not tested in the match kept at bay a Kyi Lin low shot. The nippy Lin interchanged all throughout and in the very next minute almost laid the platform for Myanmar to take the lead but Kaw Zayar Win failed to tap in Lin’s through from close. They were tense moments in the Indian camp and obviously, the decibel levels rose.
The Indians tried to regroup. Intercepting a counter-attack, Chhetri laid it for Jewel in the box but the latter instead tried to find Chhetri instead of pulling the trigger.
In between, Denzil Franco was yellow-carded for pushing David Htan on the far right and then, Gouramangi Singh was yellow carded for tripping substitute Soe Min Oo just outside the box. But Myanmar failed to capitalise.
Instead, Jewel almost put India in the lead. He latched on to the second ball off a Raju throw but his prompt right-footer hit the post and bounced back.
The goal came in the 75th minute. Myanmar, pressing hard, managed to float it in the box from the left and Soe Min scored from a melee.
In the 80th minute, Arata followed a Raju throw-in and tapped in from close but only for defender Zaw Min to make a goalline save. Myanmar managed to hold on till the end.
There was pin drop silence in the team bus on way back to the Team Hotel. But as Koevermans summed it up: “We have ourselves to blame.”
INDIA: Subrata Paul; Denzil Franco, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Gurjinder Kumar; Francis Fernandes (Syed Rahim Nabi – 83rd), Lenny Rodrigues (Arata Izumi – 71st), Mehtab Hossain, Clifford Miranda, Jewel Raja Shaikh (Robin Singh – 77th), Sunil Chhetri (Captain).
(COURTESY: AIFF MEDIA)