India were knocked out of the AFC Asian Cup after losing their final group game, thanks to a stoppage time penalty conceded by their captain Pronay Halder. The 1-0 loss to Bahrain in Sharjah meant India ended bottom of Group A and missed out on the chance to progress to the knockout stage, which would have been their best finish in the tournament since ending as runners-up in 1964.
The 1-1 draw between UAE and Thailand meant the hosts finished top of the group while Thailand finished second to secure direct qualification. Bahrain finished third with four points, having earned a draw against UAE in their opening game.
The equation going into the day was close -- UAE were already through before they took the field against Thailand, but the remaining three teams all had a shout of finishing in the top three and booking their berth for the round of 16 of the continental tournament.
India coach Stephen Constantine made a bold change in the line-up, replacing Anirudh Thapa with Rowllin Borges in midfield. Bahrain, who needed the three points to stand any chance of qualifying, belied their nerves inside three seconds, as the kick off was sent back to defence and then hoofed up towards centre-forward Mohamed Saad Alromaihi.
Constantine's second gambit was a forced one, though, as centre-back Anas Edathodika slumped to the ground inside three minutes with a pulled muscle. Salam Ranjan Singh replaced him and inside the first quarter of an hour, made a few vital tackles and interceptions, while holding the defensive line excellently with Sandesh Jhingan. Bahrain tried a few shots from distance, but nothing good enough to test Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
As India settled into the game, Sunil Chhetri tried to get some combinations going with Ashique Kuruniyan, but it was more down to the Indian midfield, where Pronay Halder kept justifying his captain's armband with a tenacious performance.
At half-time, Constantine played another of his cards, pulling Ashique out and inserting Jeje Lalpekhlua. After a bright start in the half, India started feeling the pressure of a desperate Bahrain as they pushed for goal. They struck the post on 71 minutes, and a couple of minutes later, a Subhasish Bose attempt at a clearance that deflected towards Sandhu was deemed to have been a back pass. Jamal Rashed Abdulrahman's strike was blocked by a strong Indian wall.
In the first minute of injury time, Rashed got another stab at it, when Halder tripped Hamad Mahmood Alshamsan in the box. Rashed buried the penalty past Sandhu, one of India's top performers on the night.
At the full-time whistle, the few Bahrain players from the bench threw their bibs in the air and went on a victory run, while the Indian players looked on in disbelief. They just didn't get the formula right on the night.