Turkmenistan came back from behind with two second half goals for a 2-1 win denying India a consolation victory in the World Cup qualifiers at Kochi on Tuesday. Local lad Sandesh Jhingan gave India an early lead in their last World Cup Qualifier, but could not spare India from their seventh defeat.
Stephen Constantine made three changes to the lineup which he fielded against Iran in the last game. Pritam Kotal, Arnab Mondal and Cavin Lobo replaced Aiborlang Khongjee, Bikash Jairu and Holicharan Narzary in the team.
Initially it seemed like Constantine had reverted back to the 3-5-2 formation, which he had used during his previous stint at the job. However, Narayan Das played as a left winger, and Udanta Singh was shifted to the right wing, as India shaped up in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Turkmenistan, on the other hand, rested eight of their first-team players, and manager Amangylyc Kocumow used a 4-3-3 formation with captain Arslanmyrat Amanow playing in the role of a false no.9.
India made a bright start to the game with Narayan Das and Lobo trying their luck from long ranges in the 10th and 12th minute respectively. Operating in the hole behind the lone striker Jeje, Lobo caused the Turkmenistan defence a lot of problems as the interchange of play and passes between Jeje and Lobo created some good openings for India.
At the other end, Turkmenistan was looking to exploit their height advantage over the Indian defenders and poured in crosses into the box at every opportunity. In the 18th minute, Arslan caught Augustin out of position and exploited the space on the right wing. He got into the box, unmarked, and tested Gurpreet with a powerful drive.
The Turkmenistan skipper kept pulling the Indian defenders all over the place, as he roamed around in his free role. In the 19th minute, he popped up on the left wing and drifted into the box with the ball at his feet. Pritam Kotal brought down the forward with a rash challenge and the referee pointed to the spot.
Arslan stepped up to take the spot-kick, and aimed for the right-hand bottom corner. Gurpreet guessed right, but he was not required to make a save, as the shot went wide, much to Kotal's relief.
That miss proved costly for Turkmenistan as five minutes later, India took the lead. The goal arrived from a free-kick as Narayan Das produced a fantastic delivery into the box. Local boy Sandesh Jhingan rose above his marker and found the top corner of the net with a thumping header. The goalkeeper was rooted to his spot as Jhingan celebrated in front of his home crowd.
Three minutes later, Narayan came close to doubling India's lead from another dangerous free-kick, this time close enough for a direct attempt on goal, which almost glanced off the crossbar.
India gained a lot of confidence after the goal and began to dominate possession in the midfield. They controlled the game till the halftime whistle, during which Turkmenistan had just one opportunity – a vicious long range effort from Astanow in the 41st minute.
India dropped a bit in the second half and allowed Turkmenistan most of the possession, and the away side made them pay in the 49th minute. Didar Durdyyew got a lot of space on the left wing, as Augustin was once again caught out of position, and he played in a perfect cross to the far post.
Gurpreet did not come out for the cross, which proved to be a mistake, and Pritam Kotal failed to mark Arslan, who headed the ball into the net almost unopposed. The equalizer made it 1-1 and the away side was firing in all cylinders.
Constantine responded to the goal by replacing Lobo with Holicharan Narzary, and the Assamese footballer was deployed as a withdrawn striker, and operated in the same space as Lobo.
India kept inviting pressure on themselves as they failed to retain possession, and the midfielders were unable to provide any substantial protection to the defence. Turkmenistan kept pressurizing Indian left back Augustin, and in the 70th minute, the away side took the lead for the first time through that wing.
Substitute Serdaraly Atayew, who was brought on at the start of the second half, danced his way through the Indian defence down the right flank, before scoring with a beautifully-placed shot at the far corner of the net. The goal gave Turkmenistan the lead for the first time, and with 20 minutes left on the clock, there was time for a lot more. However, some last-ditch defending and a brilliant save from Gurpreet, kept the scoreline honest, as the match ended in a 2-1 loss for the home side.
India finished at the bottom of Group D, having conceded 18 goals in their eight matches.