Doha, 23 January 2024 - Omar Khrbin came off the bench to strike the winning goal as Syria defeated India 1-0 on Tuesday to keep their hopes of advancing to the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ Round of 16 alive.
Khrbin struck in the 75th minute at the Al Bayt Stadium as Syria finished third in Group B, with the West Asian side now facing an anxious wait to know whether they will see knockout stage action for the first time.
Australia finished top on seven points after a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan, who ended the group stage with five points, one ahead of Syria.
India head coach Igor Stimac made three changes by starting midfielders Lallianzuala Chhangte and Deepak Tangri and reinforcing the defensive line with the experienced Subhasish Bose, while Hector Cuper’s Syrian line-up remained unchanged.
The Blue Tigers started on a promising note, with Mahesh Naorem receiving a cross from Manvir Singh inside the Syrian box but his attempt from a tight angle on the right was pushed away by goalkeeper Ahmad Madanieh.
Syria were quick to respond, a powerful header from forward Pablo Sabbag forcing Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu into making a diving save with the deflected ball, much to India’s relief, sent skywards by Aiham Ousou.
As the match progressed, the Qasioun Eagles looked more and more dangerous, keeping the Indian defence busy with repeated charges from the likes of Sabbag, Ezequiel Ham and Mouaiad Alajaan only to falter in the final third or being denied by Indian custodian Gurpreet.
With a first goal of the tournament having eluded both sides in the opening 45 minutes, the pressure to find the back of the net was immense in the second half with Syria summoning the talismanic Khrbin off the bench.
The 2017 AFC Player of the Year made his presence felt almost immediately but his attempt from inside the box was blocked by Bose.
Moments later the Syrian custodian gifted India with the perfect opportunity to take the lead when failing to collect the ball, but an unmarked Chhangte failed to make good of the chance.
Syria finally found their way in the 75th minute when Khrbin unleashed a right-footed shot to the centre of the box that eluded the outstretched hand of the Indian keeper, giving the Syrian his 22nd goal for the national team.
With time quickly running out, India spent the remaining 10 minutes of the game pressing high but failed to bring back parity and ended their AFC Asian Cup campaign goalless.