India ended their 2018 World Cup football qualifying campaign on a disappointing note as they lost to Turkmenistan 1-2 in their last group match to finish at the bottom of the heap today.
The Indians led 1-0 at the breather with a dominating show in the first session in hot and humid conditions courtesy a Sandesh Jhingan strike, but conceded two goals in the second half to lose the Group D match at the Nehru Stadium.
Jhingan’s 27th minute header raised hopes for the Indians to end their disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign on a winning note, but they allowed Turkmenistan to come back strongly in the second half with a sloppy performance.
The visiting side, which struggled to cope with the heat and humidity in the first half, regrouped themselves in the second and pumped in two goals through Amanov Arslan (49th) and Serdaraly Atayew (70th) to collect full three points.
Turkmenistan also wasted a penalty early into the match with Arslan shooting the ball wide off the target in the 21st minute.
India ended their campaign at the bottom of the five-team Group D with just three points with a lone win over Guam in their home leg match last year.
Turkmenistan, who were also already out of reckoning in the World Cup qualifying campaign, ended at third position with 13 points. The tiny Pacific nation of Guam ended above India at fourth with seven points.
Today’s match did not have much significance for India as far as their World Cup qualification was concerned as they were already assured of a bottom finish irrespective of the result. A win, though, could have some impact on India’s chances for qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup.
India were to feature in a play-off round of even to feature in the qualifiers of the Asian Cup irrespective of today’s result. But a win today would have ensured a lesser team for them in the play-off round of the Asian Cup qualifiers.
Turkmenistan, however, could have taken the lead in the 21st minute as they earned a penalty after Pritam Kotal brought down Arslan Amanov inside the area. Arslan himself took the spot kick but shot wide even as Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu dived at the right direction.
India punished the visiting side for wasting the penalty as central defender Jhingan came up to head home from a set piece.
He outjumped his Turkmenistan rivals to connect a Narayan Das free-kick which India earned after a foul on captain Jeje Lalpekhlua who led the home side as an injured Sunil Chhetri did not take the field.
Turkmenistan, who had beaten Oman and drawn with mighty Iran in their campaign, showed in the second half why they are ranked 113th in the FIFA charts, 47 places above India as they brushed aside the tough playing condition here to score twice in the second half.
Turkmenistan’s equaliser though was due to a goalkeeping mistake by normally reliable Gurpreet as he found himself out of position as the cross from Didar Durdiyev sailed over him for an unmarked captain Arslan to head the ball home into the empty net.
Second half substitute Atayev then scored the what turned out to be the winning goal in the 70th minute as he got the better of every Indian inside the box to slot the ball home.
He side-stepped an advancing Gurpreet and then fired a low shot into the net with all other Indian defenders trying to reach to the ball in vain.