Listless in the first half, India fought back in the second session with a spirited display but still lost 2-5 against North Korea to suffer their second consecutive defeat in the Intercontinental Cup football tournament here Saturday. Jong Il Gwan (8th and 29th minute), Sim Hyon Jin (16th), Ri Un Chol (63rd) and Ri Jin (90+2) scored for North Korea while Lallianzuala Chhangte (51st) and captain Sunil Chhetri (61st) reduced the margin for India.
The loss put the home side on the verge of being sent out of the reckoning for a berth in the final as they occupy the bottom of the points table. Tajikistan is in the top of the table with six points from two wins while Syria and North Korea have three points each. Defending champions India still have an outside chance to make it to the final if North Korea lose against Tajikistan on July 15. In that situation, the home side will need to beat Syria by a huge margin in their final league match on July 16, which itself will be a tall task if their current form is to go by.
The top two teams will make it to the final of the four-team tournament. If two or more teams end at the same point, the ranking will be decided through goal difference. India now has a minus five-goal difference while North Korea has zero and Syria plus one.
After their 2-4 defeat at the hands of Tajikistan in the opening match on July 7, India was expected to produce a much-improved show but they were listless in the first half, conceding three goals. They did produce a dominant performance in the second half, scoring two while also conceding two to lose the match in front of a sizeable crowd which included sports minister Kiren Rijiju at the EKA Stadium.
India coach Igor Stimac has insisted that results in this tournament would not matter much as the team prepares for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, and he made as many as nine changes from the starting line-up in the Tajikistan match. Amrinder Singh started at the goal instead of number one choice Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and the likes of Udanta Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad did not start though they were brought in the second half.
Just like against Tajikistan, the Indian defense wilted under intense pressure from the North Korean forwards. While the North Koreans struck thrice and had many other chances, India had just one chance in the first half which Chhetri wasted as he failed to keep his running header down. Stimac introduced Chhangte and Udanta in the second half, and also brought in Sahal later. Indian looked like a completely changed side as they controlled the game for the most part of the second half.
Apart from the two goals they scored in the second half, India could have added more. Sahal, Udanta, and Chhetri had chances to score but failed to find the back of the North Korea net. North Korea scored a goal against the run of play and then added another in the injury time.
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