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Tajikistan downs India, qualifies

Special Correspondent


NEW DELHI: A spectacular save by Farrukh Berdiev helped Tajikistan beat India 3-2 in a group `G' encounter in the Asian Football Confederation under-17 qualifying tournament at the Nehru Stadium here on Thursday. The win took Tajikistan to the main round, to be held next year in Singapore.

India trailed 0-3 at the half-way stage but further progress in the championship was stalled by that sensational block by Berdiev. The Indians had pulled off two goals through sheer hard work when a free kick from five yards outside the box raised hopes of an equaliser.

A draw was all that India needed since it enjoyed a superior goal average than the opponent. The energetic Lalramluaha produced a near-perfect strike. The Indian bench rose to a man as the ball appeared set to crash into the Tajikistan net but the home camp sank in despair as Berdiev tipped it over. The acrobatic act by the Tajikistan goalkeeper enabled his team maintain the lead.

Disappointing

"It was disappointing," said India coach Islam Akhmedov. It was actually heartbreaking for he remained glued to his seat until a good ten minutes after the match even as the Tajikistan lads celebrated the triumph, scripted by two goals by the lanky Ulugbek Karaev and a breathtaking free-kick conversion by Samad Shohzukhurov.

"The Indians thought we were weak after our match against Pakistan. But we had our tactics in place. We had saved our energy for this match," said Tajikistan coach Pulod Qodirov.

Tajikistan dominated the first-half with some good speed work by its forwards. The Indians failed to mark Samad and Ulugbek. They played havoc with the Indian defence until sanity returned in the second-half when the home team used the wingers to good effect.

A brilliant cross by Satish Kumar set up the first goal for Arjun Todo in the 75th minute. Satish again marshalled the fight-back when his curling shot surprised the Tajikistan goalkeeper. The loose ball was slotted in by an agile Thoi Singh Khangembam. With 12 minutes left, the Indians launched a vigorous charge and almost equalized but for that save by Berdiev in the closing moments of a racy and well-fought contest.

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