Uzbekistan stormed into the final of the four-nation JRD Tata Cup Under-19 International Football tournament, beating India TFA White 2-0 at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur on Friday.
In a dramatic match, the Indians suffered a jolt in the seventh minute, when Thai referee Phaengsupha sent off the team's leading player, Malsawma.
Uzbekistan too had midfielder Abdumajid Yulchiev sent off along with the Indian for offensive conduct. Thus, both teams were reduced to ten players.
After today's victory, the Uzbeks have eight points from four matches while TFA White have seven, also from four matches.
The chances of coach Stephen Constantine's team qualifying for the final are now slim and will depend on a number of ifs and buts.
Much will depend on the outcome of Saturday's match between India TFA Blue and Iran. If the Blue team manages to pull off a draw against Iran, then the TFA White will go through to the final.
The Indians looked handicapped today without the services of their midfield livewire, Malsawmma. However, another midfielder and TFA cadet Jerry Zirsanga did well to fill the void. He overlapped on the right flank frequently and in the 15th minute essayed a powerful shot which went over the bar. He created another chance but defender Debabrata Roy failed to connect his pass in front of the Uzbek goal.
But the Uzbeks scored from a counter-attack in the 29th minute. Midfielder Sobir Usmankhoajaev lobbed the ball from the left flank to Abbos Abdullayev, who found the net, giving goalkeeper Subrata Paul no chance - (1-0).
Following the goal, Uzbekistan dominated the proceedings. They could have taken a 2-0 lead at the breather had medio Sadriddin Abulayev's shot not hit the post after Paul was beaten.
Substitute striker Shakhboz Umarov made it 2-0 in the 74th minute, collecting a pass from Abdullayev and dribbling past the advancing 'keeper before scoring.
Coach Constantine criticised the Thai referee for showing the red card to his key player and said, "It was absolutely a harsh and terrible decision. Malsawmma is our game maker and a key player. We felt his absence badly."
He said Uzbekistan were technically much better than the Indians.
"This was a wake-up call for us; we have a lot of work to do," he said, adding "some of the decisions also went against us."
Asked about his team's chances of making the final, Constantine said, with a smile, "Football is a funny game; anything can happen."
Uzbekistan captain Akuai Shorakhmedov justified the red card to Yulchiev and said his team played better football than they had against Bangladesh as the conditions were conducive for them.