AFC U-23 Asia Cup qualifiers: India grabs second spot after Dheeraj’s heroics

India confirmed the second spot in their group after their last do-or-die league match against the Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC U-23 Asia Cup qualifiers on October 30.

The match ended 0-0 at the final whistle and was then decided through a tiebreaker where Indian custodian Dheeraj Singh made two crucial saves to guarantee the second spot in the group for India. India defeated Kyrgyz Republic by 4-2 in the shootout.

For India, Rahul KP, Rohit Danu, Suresh Singh and Rahim Ali scored from the spot to post a favourable score of 4-2 after the shootout.

While India’s chances of qualifying for the marque competition are slim, as they are placed second in their group, it was a positive outing for the U-23 team and they now hope that other results go their way on October 31 to qualify.

Having beaten Oman 2-1 and lost to hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) because of a late penalty, India needed to win their match against Kyrgyz Republic, and also hope favourable results in the UAE vs Oman match to top the group and automatically qualify for the finals in Uzbekistan next year. However, a win for UAE in the other match ensured that India could only reach the second spot in the group.

On October 30, coach Igor Stimac made a single change to the starting XI that went down 1-0 in their previous match to UAE as Amarjit Singh replaced Jeakson Singh. It was a positive start for India as most of the possession was being enjoyed by them.

The match eventually ended 0-0, ensuring both teams were equal in every aspect in their group. The stalemate forced an unconventional situation where a penalty shootout was needed to determine the second-placed side.

“Very proud of how our boys played today. India deservedly got second place in the group. This was the biggest surprise here in UAE. With a result like this, we still hope to qualify for the (U-23) Asian Cup,” India head coach Igor Stimac said after the match.

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