United Arab Emirates coach Baler Sadih walked up and took the next seat immediately after the kick-off. Out went his notebook and points were being jotted down. He wanted to have a look at both Iraq and India. Tempted, one asked: "What's your assessment?" It was interval by then and India were down by a goal.
"India's organisation is good. Iraq are pressing but your team is not crumbling down. You should have converted the two chances you got," he commented. He referred to a Holicharan Narzary header and a Manandeep Singh shot, both of which were deflected into corners.
Iraq survived those two and went on to beat India 2-1 in their second match of the U-22 AFC Championship at the Royal Oman Police Stadium on Monday. Captain Ali Mohammed Alialah headed in a Jawad Kadhim cross in the 35th minute after Jawad got past Vishal Kumar and had sneaked into the box. Ammar Abdul Hussein scored the second goal for Iraq in the 49th minute.
Alwyn George pulled one back for India in the 82nd minute.
Arthur Papas' boys are a new India. They don't wilt under pressure and stay willing to press; and press hard. In the first half, formations changed. The veteran Baler Sadih noticed it.
"India aren't sticking to one formation. They are constantly changing. Sometimes it's 4-3-2-1; the next moment it's 4-3-1-2 and then 4-3-3. Such teams are always dangerous," he prophesied as Alwyn George made one of his sizzling runs into the rival box.
Upfront, Captain Jeje Lalpekhlua limped off in the 38th minute and substitute Holicharan Narzary almost scored off his first touch with the ball -- his header just off the target. His partner Manandeep was a man possessed. His passion reflected as he never shied away from tackles, making those off the ball runs and chased like everything depended on it.
In the 42nd minute, he almost scored but Alialah was able to deflect it the last moment for a corner.
Changing over, Iraq doubled the lead almost immediately after resumption -- in the 49th minute through Ammar Abdul Hussein.
Despite down by two goals, India didn't panic. Rather, they tried regrouped. After a string of passes in the 69th minute, Lalrindika Ralte's long-ranger almost beat the diving rival goalkeeper Yaseen Yas but Yas managed to palm it away for a corner. In the very next minute, Dika's free-kick hit the wall.
India pressed and soon Dika and Allwyn's one-twos had the Iraqis guessing. In the 75th minute, Manandeep tried to tap in between the two stoppers but Yasees was quick to react.
The Iraqis tried to slow down the game in the last quarter of the match but Alwyn was too good for them. He shrugged off three defenders and tap it over an onrushing Yaseen in the 82nd minute.
The rest of the match, India went all out but Iraq managed to hold on. A handball shout was even ruled out. The books may suggest the score for future but the spirit and camaraderie will never be reflected in that. This is a resurgent India who play till the final whistle.
India next play United Arab Emirates on July 28.
INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Vishal Kumar, Souvik Ghosh, Prathamesh Maulinkar, Narayan Das, Pronoy Halder (Ganeshan -- 58th), Milan Singh (Romeo -- 83rd), Lalrindika Ralte, Alwyn George, Manandeep Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua (Hoicharan Narzary -- 38th).
Photograph: AIFF Media