The Blue Tigers, on Sunday, September 24, 2023, reached the last 16 of the Asian Games men’s football after a gap of 13 years when they eked out a 1-1 draw against Myanmar in Hangzhou.
For India, Sunil Chhetri scored from a penalty before Yan Kyaw Htwe scored the equaliser. India made the pre-quarter-finals as the runners-up team from Group A and will now meet Saudi Arabia on September 28. Myanmar, too, made the grade as one of the best four third-placed teams.
India and Myanmar, though, both finished with four points apiece. But India made the cut to second place in the group because they scored more goals than Myanmar.
Last Thursday, the stage was set in Hangzhou, China, as India faced off against Bangladesh in a crucial Group A encounter after losing their first match against China. Captain Sunil Chhetri rose to the occasion, converting a nerve-wracking penalty to secure a hard-fought 1-0 victory. Those three crucial points not only sealed the win but also kept India’s dreams of reaching the last-16 alive.
Once again, it was the indomitable Sunil Chhetri who stood tall. In the 23rd minute, the Indian captain calmly stepped up and buried yet another penalty, paving the way for a crucial 1-1 draw against Myanmar. Myanmar’s Yan Kyaw Htwe later found the back of the net in the 74th minute.
It was Myanmar, though, who started the match on an attacking note, aiming to put pressure on the Indian defence right from the start. On the left wing, Khun Kyaw Zin Hein showcased his remarkable speed, while Zaw Win Thien and Htet Phoye Wai sought to create scoring opportunities through set-pieces. However, the Indian defence, under the commanding presence of Sandesh Jhingan, remained unyielding during the first half and effectively repelled all Myanmar’s offensive attempts.
Jhingan’s performance was nothing short of exceptional, as he exhibited an impeccable understanding of the game, executed flawless sliding tackles, and acted as an impervious wall that Myanmar struggled to breach.
As the match progressed, India gradually found their rhythm. Their first notable offensive opportunity materialised in the 18th minute when Abdul Rabeesh Anjukandan tried to exploit Myanmar’s goalkeeper, Zin Nyi Nyi Aung, who was slightly out of position. Abdul Rabeesh attempted a daring lob from midfield, attempting to catch the goalkeeper off-guard.
Just five minutes later, India took the lead. Rahim Ali pounced on a poorly executed back pass from defender Hein Zeyar Lin, finding himself in a one-on-one situation with the Myanmar goalkeeper. Lin then resorted to fouling Ali from behind inside the penalty area, leading to an immediate penalty being awarded by referee Qasim Al-Hatmi. Sunil Chhetri stepped up to the spot and expertly converted, giving India the lead.
At the start of the second half, India had two consecutive opportunities to extend their advantage but failed to capitalise on them. First, substitute Gurkirat Singh squandered a one-on-one opportunity with Myanmar’s goalkeeper in the 52nd minute. A mere minute later, Rahim Ali showcased his pace by outmaneuvering the Myanmar defenders to find himself one-on-one with Zin Nyi Nyi Aung, but the Myanmar goalkeeper pulled off an excellent save, preserving the scoreline.
Myanmar, meanwhile, continued to create their own chances and came close to equalising in the 59th minute. However, India’s goalkeeper, Dheeraj Singh, thwarted a long-range shot from Kwe Khant Min. Myanmar kept mounting pressure on the Indian defence, eventually reaping the rewards in the 74th minute. Yan Kyaw Htwe, who had entered the game as a substitute in the 68th minute, managed to score the leveller. He climbed over India’s centre-back, Chingelsana Singh, and skillfully headed the ball into the net from a precise cross from the right by Zin Hein.
Myanmar tried their best to score the winner, but Indian defence’s gritty show ensured their passage into the last-16 stage.
India: Dheeraj SIngh, Chingelsana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Narender, Amarjit Singh, Rahul KP (Gurkirat Singh 46th minute), Kynshi Samuel James (Rohit Danu 77th minute), Bryce Miranda (Aniket Jadhav 55th minute), Abdul Rabeesh Anjukandan, Rahim Ali (Vincy Barretto 77th minute), Sunil Chhetri.