India U-23 suffered a crusing 2-0 defeat at the hands of Syria U-23 in their first 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifier at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.
Rabie Srour and Mohamad Fares Arnaout wrote their names on the scoresheet for Syria as they kept a wasteful Indian attack at bay throughout 90 minutes.
Syria started the match on the front foot and almost got their reward in the 14th minute in the form of a golden chance as a failed clearance by the India Colts defence resulted in a cross back into the box which the forwards failed to convert.
Custodian Vishal Kaith kept his team in the game through a fantastic goal-line clearance in the 24th minute after the Colts defence suffered a lapse in concentration during a well taken Syrian corner routine.
Kaith was called into action again in the 35th minute as Syria's no.10 rose highest for a corner to head the ball into the safe hands of the goalkeeper.
Two minutes later, a bizarre back-pass from Syria's centre back took his goal-keeper by surprise, and his clearance took a deflection off Manvir Singh's legs and flew wide off the post.
The Colts were starting to knock on their opponents' door as the game moved towards half-time. In the 37th minute, Germanpreet Singh, who had embarked on a clever run from midfield to join the attack, launched a piledriver to force the goalkeeper into a finger-tip save.
As the half time whistle blew, the teams had evened themselves out, with Nikhil Poojary running the show for India despite being targeted by opposition's defenders.
Colts tried to increase the tempo of the game after restart, as Nandhakumar's cross met Manvir's head in the 47th minute but the Santosh Trophy star's header looped into the hands of the keeper.
Nikhil, who had been working his socks off on the right flank, was sent on another lung-busting run after a failed Syrian attack created an opportunity to hit them on the counter but a neat tackle by his marker meant the game remained goal-less at the hour mark.
The proceedings took an unwanted turn as Colts skipper and defensive rock Lalruatthara and ever-reliable right back Nishu Kumar, collected unnecessary yellow cards for frustrating late tackles in the space of two minutes.
Syria broke the deadlock in the 64th minute as lack of proper communication between Jerry Lalrinzuala and his goalkeeper Vishal Kaith allowed Rabie Srour to chip the ball ino the net, after the goalkeeper had initially come out to collect the ball. Srour's clever chip took Kaith out of the game and Jerry failed to make proper contact to clear the ball.
Constantine introduced Hitesh and Robinson as Colts chased an equalizer and the instruction was clear. India threw bodies forward and once again, Nikhil got free from his marker on the right to cross into the box but there was nobody at the receiving end.
The desperate search for an equalizing goal put Colts defence in shambles and Syria doubled their lead in the 88th minute through Mohamad Fares Arnaout. A ball into the box proved too difficult to handle and Arnaout pounced to slot the ball into the net as the helpless Indian defence stood on their heels.
The winning team safely saw out the remaining few minutes of the game and India resigned to defeat, having failed to register points on the board in the first qualifier.
The Colts are in Group C along with hosts Qatar, Syria and Turkmenistan. Finishing on top or being one of the five best runners-up will see the Colts seal a berth in what will be their maiden AFC U-23 Championship finals.
India's next game is against Qatar on July 21 and they will look to bounce right back into winning ways in two days' time.