New Delhi: India's FIFA World Cup dream ended on Thursday as they drew the home-leg 2-2 but went down 2-5 on aggregate to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the first round of Asian qualifiers.
UAE caught India off-guard from a counter attack and went ahead in the 40th minute through Mohammed Al Shehhi and they doubled the lead in the 71st minute after Ali Al-Wehaibi slammed it in from inside the box.
India pulled one back in the 73rd minute with Jeje Lalpekhlua's header and defender Gourmangi Singh struck the equalizer in the injury time from a goal mouth melee.
In front of a near capacity crowd at the Ambedkar Stadium, incessant rain made it difficult for both teams to keep the possession of the ball, but India put up a spirited show against the UAE, whose only World Cup finals appearance was way back in 1990 in Italy.
Having lost the away leg 0-3, India needed to win the match by a four-goal margin to move into the second round but a lack of coordinated effort between the strikers and the midfield did them in.
Under slushy underfoot conditions, players struggled to get a firm footing and passes became a gamble for both teams. India as expected launched a heavy wave of attack in the first 10 minutes, typified with miss-passes and false kicks.
The UAE defence stood tall amidst the relentless attack and goalkeeper Ali Khaseif remained hardly tested all during the first half.
While Delhi boy Sunil Chettri did most of the leg-work in the first half, his partner Jeje Lalpekhlua looked rusty and India failed to take advantage of the half chances that came their way. Gourmangi's chip from the edge of the box went wide in the seventh minute while in the next moment a 1-2 between Chettri and midfielder Steven Dias was squandered in the box.
Slowly the Indians ran out of steam as UAE strengthened their firm grip on the match by resorting to long ball tactics. The visitors almost took a lead in 16th minute from Ahmed Khalil's free-kick but goalkeeper Karanjit Singh made an excellent save by tipping it over the bar.
India also had their share of chance from a free-kick but Dias curled it too wide in the 23rd minute. As the clock ticked, India slowed down the pace of the game.
As coach Armando Colaco feared, the Indian defence was caught napping in the 40th minute after forward Ahmed Khalil dodged defender Sameer Naik and lifted a cross from the baseline and Al Shehhi nodded it in.
UAE showed their class again after the breather and went ahead as Al-Wehaibi shot it past Karanjit to silence the packed stadium. But within two minutes the crowd burst into joy as an unmarked Lalpekhlua headed home a perfect cross from substitute Lalrindika.
India, however, left the ground with their heads held high as Gourmangi stabbed in from a goalmouth melee much to the cheer of the Delhi crowd.
India: Karanjit Singh; Samir Naik, Gourmangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Rahim Nabi; Steven Dias (63, Lalrindika Ralte), Mehtab Hossain, Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda (84th, Jewel Raja Sheikh); Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua
UAE: Ali Khaseif; Hamdan Al Kamali, Yousef Jaber, Walid Abbas; Amer Abdulrahman, Amir Mubarak, Ali Al-Wehaibi, Khalil Sebil, Mohammad Al Shehhi; Ismail Saeed Al Hammadi, Ajmed Khalil