India exit after a fight
About the expected part first: India's wait for an Olympic football berth just got extended to another edition on Thursday night. What was unexpected perhaps was that India were a scuffed penalty and a couple of close shaves away from upsetting Qatar and staying in business for the London Games. The match ended 1-1 and India lost 2-4 on aggregate.
In front of a cheering 6000-strong crowd at the Balewadi stadium in Pune, Lalrindika Ralte got as good an opportunity as he would get to put India ahead in the 19th minute.
Uzbek referee Kovalenko Valentin pointed to the spot after Jeje Lalpekhlua's chip, off a corner-kick, hit Qatari right-back Murad Hussain on the hand. But the left-foot attempt lacked both height and placement and Qatar goalie Saad Al Sheeb's kept it out flying to his left.
Needing a 2-0 verdict to erase the 1-3 first-leg defeat in Doha, this miss came eight minutes after Lalpekhlua missed a connection to a Raju Gaikwad long throw. Nearing half-time, Lalpekhlua showed good presence of mind to try a chip over Al Sheeb. And before Ralte missed, it was off a long ball from the medio that CS Sabeeth couldn't get a proper header.
The rain had stayed away after light showers earlier in the day and even though Qatar began briskly, the hosts pressed and the midfield quartet of Ralte, Jewel Raja, Shilton d'Silva and Jibon Singh put up a much-improved show.
About an hour before kick-off, the squad would have received the news of manager Anthony Cabral's heart problem but it didn't seem to affect their display on field. Cabral was admitted to hospital but is learnt to be stable.
India got a surprise lead in the 53rd minute when defender Khaled Muftah's backpass, under pressure from Sabeeth, induced a howler from Al Sheeb who failed to stop it.
Laxmikant Kattimani did well to keep out a snap drive by Al Ansari soon after the break but had little to do till the equaliser in the 72nd minute.
And that too happened seconds after Lalpekhlua failed to put the finishing touches to a slick move, shooting weakly at the near post.
Ironically, Abhishek Das and Mondal were caught napping when Al Ansari floated a long ball was floated from the right and Qatar equalised through a superb volley from Mohammad Salah Elneel which gave Kattimani no chance.