U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers | India pips Kyrgyz Republic in shoot out, finishes second

Dheeraj Singh’s heroics ends in a heart-break for the opponents; India needs to wait to qualify for its maiden Asian Cup

Indian football team secured its best ever finish in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers by claiming the second spot in Group- E as goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh made some spectacular saves to help the side win the shootout against Kyrgyz Republic 4-2 after regulation time ended goalless here.

With the match ending in a stalemate, both sides finished the group on four points apiece with the same goal difference (zero) and equal number of goals scored in all the matches (2).

To decide who takes the second and third spots, a penalty shoot out was held, which India won 4-2.

Earlier, UAE beat Oman 2-0 to end as the topper of Group-E.

Top teams from each Group qualify directly for next year’s continental showpiece along with the best four second-placed teams across all Groups.

India now needs to wait till the conclusion of other Group matches to know if it can qualify for its maiden AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

Earlier in the match, Apuia tried to hurl the first attack in as early as the fifth minute but his long-ranger could not pose any threat to the Kyrgyz defence. Two minutes later, Rahul, from the left flank, outran Kumarbai Uulu with sheer pace, but eventually Adilet Kanybekov neutralised his effort.

The central Asian outfit sprung into life three minutes later when forward Alygulov Maksat was denied by Narender inside the 18-yard-box, five minutes later, the youngster cancelled Tapaev Temirbolot’s right-footed curler.

Rahim shielded off Artiukov Daniil before rolling it to an onrushing Vikram whose left-footed effort flew away from the target in the 21st minute.

The forward played another pivotal role a minute later as he passed the ball to Amarjit, but the Manipuri midfielder skied his effort after four minutes.

Borubaev Gulzhigit beat the offside trap to outpace Asish Rai from the left, but Dheeraj came up with a spectacular save after the half-hour mark to keep the score unscathed.

Kyrgyz Republic resumed with more intent and came close to breaking the deadlock in the 50th minute but Maksat skied his effort.

India’s best possible chance seven minutes later when Deepak Tangri put an acrobatic bicycle kick from handshaking distance, only to be thwarted by Kyrgyz goalkeeper Tokotaev Erzhan.

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