2023 Asian Cup: Gurpreet Error Opens Door for 2-0 Australian Victory over India

Sandesh Jhingan in action in India vs Australia (Image: AIFF)

After a heroic first half that saw them withstand intense Australian pressure, India were undone by a calamitous mistake from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, their vastly experienced goalkeeper. Jordan Bos added a second in the 73rd minute to give the scoreline some gloss, and Australia, the 2015 champions, were ultimately good value for the three points in this Group B encounter at the 2023 Asian Cup. As well as they defended for the most part, India will need to show far more creativity and intent against Uzbekistan and Syria if they’re to progress out of the group stage.

India sprang a surprise right at the beginning, with Deepak Tangri handed a first cap in place of the experienced Anirudh Thapa. Australia finished with 71 per cent possession and nearly 700 passes, but only six of their 28 shots were on target. Apart from a stunning save from a free kick by Bruno Fornaroli, the Uruguay-born veteran who came on as substitute, Gurpreet wasn’t overly tested, and that will make the manner in which the first goal came about all the more galling.

Martin Boyle, who plays for Hibernian in Scotland, had missed one of the best chances of the first half, heading straight at Gurpreet after Keanu Baccus had scooped a pass into his path. But when he was released down the right in the 51st minute, Gurpreet came for his cut-back cross and flapped at it. It deflected towards Jackson Irvine, who captains St. Pauli in Germany, and his left-footed shot was deflected into the net off Gurpreet.

India could summon up little by way of response, especially since they couldn’t string any passes together. Lallianzuala Chhangte’s pace had caused Australia a few alarms down the left flank early in the first half, but with even Manvir Singh drafted in to help the defensive effort, there was no one up the field to hold the ball up and bring the midfielders or Sunil Chhetri into play.

Chhetri had one superb chance midway through the first half, ghosting between Australia’s central defenders but directing his downward header just wide of Matt Ryan’s right-hand post. With the first goal behind them, Australia always looked more likely to get the second, especially once Bos and Fornaroli came on.

The other difference-maker was Middlesbrough’s Riley McGree, who had come on in the 64th minute, and whose mazy run down the right and into the penalty box set up Bos for the simplest of tap-ins. Australia had plenty more chances as the minutes wound down, but Sandesh Jhingan and company put their bodies on the line, often painfully, to ensure that India were not embarrassed.

“We are disappointed,” said Jhingan after the game. “But when you come up against a World Cup side, it’s always going to be difficult. There are a lot of things to learn from the game. Some of the things, we are proud of as well. I want to thank all the fans who came to support us. We’ve got two more group games to progress, so we’ll focus on that now.”

Having avoided a banana skin in their tournament opener – they lost 1-0 to Jordan in their first outing in 2019 – the Australian reaction was more relief. “There’s always a bit of pressure on that first result, so the most important thing was getting off to a winning start,” said Ryan, who played in a mask as he recovers from a facial fracture. “There was a bit of rustiness which we’ll look to improve on, but all in all it’s a good first game. Our focus will turn to recovering before the Syria game. I’m sure we’ll be better for the run-out tonight and we’ll put in a better performance on Thursday.”

Yoshimi Yamashita, the 37-year-old Japanese who was the first woman to referee a match at the men’s Asian Cup, ensured that the game was played in the right spirit. By showing enough resilience to make certain there was no repeat of the 4-0 hammering they suffered against Australia in 2011, India made sure this was one of those rare games where both sides left the pitch without too many regrets.

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