Muscat: Romeo Fernandes' 88th-minute strike helped India recover from an early jolt as the team rallied to hold United Arab Emirates to a 1-1 draw in an Under-22 AFC Championship match.
Down by a Jamal Ibrahim goal, as early as in the ninth minute, India came back strongly to share the points after a barrage of attacks on the rival citadel, Romeo restored parity in the 88th minute.
The early goal conceded may have been an initial setback but it didn't un-nerve India. Rather, they stayed content in building up from back, so much so that the first 20 minutes earned the team three corners. The number increased to seven by the 40th minute.
In the midfield, a robust group comprising Manandeep Singh, Lalrindika Ralte, Milan Singh and Pranay Halder pressed hard throughout. The first half yielded seven corners and a handball shout was ruled out in the 40th minute inside the UAE penalty box.
Changing over, UAE defended were forced into defensive mode. They tried to change the combination a number of times, but it failed.
Romeo's fresh legs on the right stretched them and in the 51st minute, Tirthankar Sarkar missed heading into an empty second post, the ball agonisingly missing.
Jeje replaced Tirthankar in the 69th minute and within two minutes, his free header off a Milan Singh corner just sailed over.
Eventually Romeo headed home in the 88th minute following a Vishal Kumar throw-in down the right. A minute later, Romeo had the best chance of the day when he sneaked in between the wall on the left, ran all the way into the six-yard box but the rival goalkeeper's legs came in between.
National Coach Wim Koevermans and Technical Director Rob Baan congratulated the team on their splendid fightback. "The boys fought well. It was heartening to fight with such a spirit against such a quality side,” AIFF general Secretary Kushal Das, who had dropped in to watch the match, commented.
India next play Turkmenistan on Saturday.