One would have been forgiven for thinking that the second leg of the World Cup qualifier between India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) resembled an inter-school match. Not because of the quality of play but because the flooded Ambedkar Stadium pitch reduced the match, which ended in a 2-2 draw, to a hit-up-front-and-chase spectacle.The downpour just prior to kick-off benefitted India who dominated possession for much of the first half with their hapless opponents being clueless as the ball refused to move even three feet. But India, who needed to close a three-goal deficit, failed to make it count and did little to trouble goalkeeper Ali Khaseif.
It was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the 39th minute when left-winger Ismail Al Hammadi pulled out right-back Samir Naik.
Al Hammai waltzed around Naik and continued down the space gifted to him before flighting a delivery for Mohamed Al Shehhi whose diving header beat custodian Karanjit Singh.
UAE appeared the stronger side after the breather, controlling the tempo and utilising spaces better. India had their moments too but failed to make it count despite spirited runs into the final third.
Lalrindika Ralte replaced Dias in the 63rd minute. The youngster would prove to be instrumental in the fightback but not before committing a costly error which allowed UAE to increase the gap in the 71st minute.
The Indian Arrows midfielder tried to do a cheeky back-pass to Gaikwad close to the India box and was dispossessed by Al Hammadi who played the ball down the right for Ali Al Wehaibi who darted into the edge of the box. The UAE captain finished with thunderous right-footer which hit the crossbar before entering the net.
However, Lalrindika made amends three minutes later, with a move that involved just the under-23 players. A Gaikwad diagonal was aimed for Lalpekhlua who feinted, leaving Lalrindika with the ball on the right flank. A sublime chip into the box saw Lalpekhlua heading it past Khaseif.
Chhetri was booked for a handball in the box in the 83rd minute but that did little to deter the feeling of a comeback among the 10,000-strong audience who cheered every touch by an Indian foot. Sure enough, Gouramangi capitalised on the confusion in the UAE box from a Gaikwad throw-in in the first minute of extra-time to draw level.