India were humbled by DPR Korea in their second game of the Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad on Saturday. The 2-5 defeat leaves India needing a big win in their final match against Syria in order to have any chance of making it to the final on July 19.
Head coach Igor Stimac, who had stated that he would use the Intercontinental Cup as preparation for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, stayed true to his word as he made nine changes to the starting XI from the Tajikistan game with only captain Sunil Chhetri and Amarjit Singh retaining their places.
DPR Korea set the tone for the game early by employing a high press to stop India from building up from the back. Their energy caused problems for the Indian rearguard, who struggled to put passes together, thus giving the Koreans opportunity to attack the Indian goal.
In the 8th minute, the visitors drew first blood from a set-piece as captain Jong Gwan sent a left-footed freekick past Amrinder Singh who failed to cover his near side.
India had a chance to equalise straight away from a free-kick but Brandon Fernandes’ cross was headed over the crossbar by Chhetri. The Koreans made India pay for that miss by doubling the lead four minutes later when a through ball from Ri Chol split the Indian defence allowing Sim Hyon Jin to slot an easy finish past Amrinder Singh.
Despite the two-goal deficit, India continued to play out from the defence. Goalkeeper Amrinder’s lack of ball skills almost got India into trouble on a few occasions, only for good fortune to bail him and the team out twice in the space of ten minutes.
Korea, however, fired their third goal in the 26th minute when Gwan Jong rose highest to head home a measured cross from the right flank as left-back Jerry Lalrianzuala couldn’t match the jump of the Korean skipper.
India posed little threat in the remainder of the half as the visitors went into the interval with a three-goal cushion.
Stimac made two changes at the break bringing on Lallianzuala Chhangte and Udanta Singh in place of Brandon Fernandes and Manvir Singh.
Chhangte made an instant impact as he scored India’s opener in the 50th minute to give the home fans some hope. However, just when The Blue Tigers were building up some momentum, Korea struck on the break as Chol finished off a sweeping move to make it 4-1 in their favour.
India continued their attacking forays in the second half and were justly rewarded in the 71st minute when Chhetri poked home Udanta’s cross from close range.
Minutes later, India threatened again as the Korean goalkeeper was called into action to stop substitute Anirudh Thapa’s fierce shot on goal.
India made several unsuccessful attempts to eat into Korea’s lead late in the game, but it was the visitors who added a fifth goal to their tally in injury time to cap off a fine display of skill, guile and energy.
The win kept DPR Korea in contention for the final even as India’s chances took a major hit.
In the final round of matches, India will take on second-placed Syria, while DPR Korea will take on leaders Tajikistan. India would need to win by a minimum of three-goal margin and hope Korea lose to Tajikistan by more than a goal.
While miracles can happen in football, India’s recent performances provide little hope of a turnaround.