A last-gasp penalty by Suresh Wangjam kept the hosts' AFC U-16 Championship India 2016 knockout stage dreams alive as the young Blue Tigers claimed a dramatic 3-3 draw with Saudi Arabia in Group A on Sunday.
Aniket Jadhav struck early for India at Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Aman Chetri doubled their advantage only for Sulaiman Al Dhuwayhi to restore hope for the Saudis 11 minutes before the interval.
Saudi Arabia’s Mali missed from the spot with the last kick of the first half but Feras Al Brikan’s quick-fire brace in the final 10 minutes looked to have won it for the Saudis before captain Wangjam kept India in the tournament at the death.
The hosts will now need to defeat Iran in their final Group A outing on Wednesday to stand any chance of reaching the quarter-finals while the Saudis face the same predicament against the United Arab Emirates.
India got off to the perfect start when Jadhav opened the scoring on five minutes by firing low into the bottom left corner after Komal Thatal had picked the midfielder out from the left.
Then in the 22nd minute Boris Thangjam broke towards the left byline, turned inside two defenders and crossed for Chetri to side-foot into the back of the net from 12 yards despite the best efforts of the Saudi defence.
But just as they did in their opening-day reversal against the UAE, India looked vulnerable when in front and the Saudis took advantage by grabbing a goal for themselves in the 34th minute.
Dhari Al Anazi received the ball on the left before going past defender Mohamad Rakip and centering for Al Dhuwayhi to head home from six yards out.
The West Asians were now in almost complete control as Naif Almas diverted Abdan Al Abdan’s fee-kick from the left onto the post on 45 minutes.
And on the stroke of half-time Saudi Arabia were awarded a penalty when Sanjeev Stalin brought down Al Dhuwayhi in the box, but Mali’s spot kick was expertly saved by Dheeraj Moiranghtem low to his left.
German coach Nicolai Adam took off both goalscorers at the break but India continued to look a threat going forward as Thatal’s deflected effort on the hour forced goalkeeper Hashem Al Asmari into a scrambling save.
But as the half wore on Saudi Arabia started to exert further pressure and Ali Al Shaikhi lashed narrowly wide from distance on 67 minutes.
Mali them had another chance to level the scores with 13 minutes remaining but failed to keep his composure as he sliced wide from inside the penalty area.
The Saudi pressure eventually paid off with eight minutes remaining when Al Anazi danced past Khumanthem Ninthoinganba down the left and crossed for Al Brikan to finish.
And the substitute was not done there are he finished from Abdullah Al Sawat’s centre from the right from close in to complete a stunning turnaround.
Mali struck the woodwork from outside the area in stoppage time before India were thrown a lifeline when Al Asmari brought down Khumanthem and Wangjam kept his composure to seal a dramatic draw.
India coach Nicolai Adam:
“It’s really difficult for me to say anything after this game – I’m extremely proud of the boys. The support tonight was spectacular. People will now go to work tomorrow and talk about this game, as will people who watched on TV. We have created something.
“Saudi Arabia are a good team with short moves and good passing. With all respect to UAE, I think the Saudi team is two times better. I said to the boys before the game, ‘we win or we learn’. I told them if we believe in it then it’s possible. I believed and the boys believed and finally it worked. We had a much better balance between offence and defence today.”
Saudi Arabia coach Mohammed Al Abdali:
“Unfortunately we conceded two early goals, but we believed in our fitness and we knew we could turn it around. We dominated most of the game – we scored three goals and we could have scored more, but unfortunately you all saw what happened at the end.
“I thought we could turn it around after half-time. I believe in my boys but unfortunately if you miss you get punished. Either way we needed to win the next game [against the United Arab Emirates] and if we do we’ll qualify.”
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