MANAMA, March 24: The Indian football team fought hard before going down to higher-ranked Bahrain 1-2 in an international friendly here on Wednesday.
Mid-feilder Mohammed Al-Hardan struck the game’s opening goal — a volley in the 38th minute at the Al Muharraq Stadium.
Al-Hardan’s strike did not prove to be enough for the home side as the Indian team, seven of whose members could not reach Bahrain with the rest of the squad on Tuesday owing to visa-related issues, hit back in the 59th minute through a Rahul Bheke header.
Head coach Igor Stimac’s move to introduce Naorem Roshan Singh at the start of the second half proved to be decisive as it was through his assist that India managed to restore parity.
However, India’s joy was short-lived as Mahdi Humaidan struck the all-important goal in the 88th minute to seal the deal in favour of Bahrain.
Up against the 91st-ranked Bahrain, Stimac’s side, which is currently placed at 104 in the FIFA rankings, found the going tough from the word go and, had it not been for a fine save from the spot by skipper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the Indians would have trailed by a bigger margin at half time.
Bahrain were awarded a penalty as early as the sixth minute of the game after a hand ball by Indian defensive mainstay Sandesh Jhingan but goalkeeper Gurpreet, diving to his left, led by example to deny the hosts an early lead with a brilliant save.
Undeterred, Bahrain pressed hard and pushed India on the back foot with their attacking game, even as Mohamed Marhoon struck the woodwork after getting the ball in the box. Mahdi hit the ball on the bounce but his attempt went wide.
Meanwhile, in one of their better chances, India’s Danish Farooq received Anwar Ali’s lofted ball from the right but his header was not on target.
Gurpreet showed good anticipation at the post but he could not stop Al-Hardan’s volley from finding the back of the net.
Stimac made a change to the XI at the start of second half, bringing in Naorem Roshan Singh on place of Liston Colaco, and the move soon paid dividends as the former played a role in India’s much-needed equaliser against the run of play.
Having got the better of the off-side trap, Bheke headed in the ball into the back of the net after Roshan Singh put in a cross from the right.
Bahrain tried to control the game by keeping possession but India stood firm, their defense frustrating the opponents no end.
However, Bahrain had the last laugh thanks to Mahdi’s winner.
India are playing the friendly as part of their preparations for the Asian Cup Qualifiers in June.
India have never defeated Bahrain. In the six last fixtures between them, India’s best result has been the 0-0 draw in 1982. (PTI)