DAMMAM: India secured a berth for next year’s AFC U-17 Asian Cup despite going down 1-2 to hosts Saudi Arabia in their final qualification match here.
Talal Haji (22nd, 58th) scored a brace to hand Saudi Arabia a 2-0 lead before India scored a consolation goal through Thanglalsoun Gangte (90+5) in the stoppage time at the Prince Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Stadium on Sunday night.
Despite the defeat, the Blue Colts qualified for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup 2023 by virtue of being one of the six best second-placed teams across the 10 groups of the qualifying tournament.

Earlier in the competition, India had notched up a hat-trick of wins against Maldives (5-0), Kuwait (3-0) and Myanmar (4-1).
The first half began with high intensity and in six minutes, Gangte received the ball in a dangerous position in the penalty area. However, it was cleared away at the last moment as the striker looked to turn and shoot.

India’s best chance of the half came in the 14th minute after Lalpekhlua found Korou Singh with a delightful cross from the left flank. The winger fired his shot on target but it was saved by the Saudi goalkeeper.
From the resulting corner kick, Danny Meitei curled the ball in towards the near post and it almost trickled past the goalline after wreaking havoc in the Saudi defence.
The hosts created scoring opportunities across the first 45 minutes as well, with India goalkeeper Sahil making a couple of sharp saves and Mukul Panwar making an excellent block to deny Nawaf Aljadaani in the 38th minute.

Saudi Arabia scored the only goal of the half on the 22nd-minute mark, with Haji finding the corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
After the break, the hosts created the first major chance as Haji took a direct free-kick from 20 yards but fired it over the crossbar. However, he doubled his side’s lead in the 58th minute after scoring from the penalty spot.
Korou came close in the 70th minute with a diving header. Three minutes later, Gangte snuck in a sharp shot at the near post but was denied by a remarkable save by the Saudi Arabia custodian, as India put on a determined late surge.
In the last minute of stoppage time, Gangte put India on the scoreboard as he fired home.


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By Dipak

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