India played out a 1-1 draw against hosts Uzbekistan, at the JAR Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Sunday, September 22, to finish top of Group B with seven points on the table in the AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers.
Sridarth gave India the lead in the second half, but Rian Islamov scored the equaliser to draw Uzbekistan level.
The home side took the initiative from early on, as they looked to dominate the game. The India U-16 side had made a name for itself for its expansive style of play.
However, this was a completely different opposition that looked to break up the passing game, and dominated the air with their physicality. The boisterous crowd, with their drums and their trumpets did not help either.
Centrebacks Singson and Anish Mazumder were put to the task, but stood firm against what was literally a tall order, in the form of the Uzbek attack.
It took India the good part of a quarter of an hour to settle their nerves, as they finally started to put some passes together and script their attacks.
Taison Singh was one of the most influential attackers for India on the day, as he worked tirelessly up and down the right flank.
The midfielders, Yoihenba Meitei and Sibajit Singh ran their lungs out with lateral movement. Ahead of half time, both Taison and Maheson had a couple of chances, but it was Uzbekistan, who had been dominant.
The Blue Colts came out with more initiative in the second half, when it was more of an even contest, though the home side still had the upper hand. India managed to string more attacks together, but on the downside, so did Uzbekistan.
With around 20 minutes left on the clock, however, Taison manoeuvred himself down the line, played it to Maheson, whose shot was saved, but Sridarth was on the spot to tuck it home and give the away side the lead.
The crowd had been silenced. Uzbekistan suddenly looked nervy in their attacks. However, both the hosts and their supporters gained confidence with time, and Rian Islamov scored in similar fashion to Sridarth, as he fired in a rebound to put Uzbekistan level.
A fresh lease of life was breathed back into the crowd. The anticipation grew, the drums started to beat again, and the chants rang out through the JAR Stadium.
India goalkeeper Aman Kumar Sahani made a point blank save, Anish Mazumdar blocked a crucial shot, and Singson flew in with the tackles.
As the fourth official signalled four minutes of added time, Pritam suddenly won a corner, which led to yet another one. The cleared ball came back again in another wave, as Sridarth tried to make space in the Uzbek box to get a shot away. He turned a defender, jinked past a second one, and a third one, but soon found himself in a cul-de-sac.
But that was enough to run down the clock, as the referee bellowed his whistle, signalling the end of the match. India were through as the group winners. But more importantly, their performance was acknowledged by the partisan crowd at the JAR, who clapped them off the pitch.