A valiant India U-16 National Team went down fighting 0-1 against the Korea Republic in the quarter-finals of the AFC U-16 Championship at the Petaling Jaya Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia today.
Jeong Sangbin’s strike in the 67th minute for Korea ensured that it was a déjà vu for India from their clash in 2002, when the Colts had lost 1-3 to the same opponents at the same stage. However, the Indian colts on this day fought hard and did not surrender until the final whistle, defending with their lives and committing to every tackle – conceding a goal after 337 minutes of play in the tournament.
The opponents dominated possession from the start but confident defending with organization held them at bay for some time. Compact defending with numbers further frustrated the opponents, who had scored twelve goals in the tournament before coming into this encounter and added to their plight.
The Indian side that made it to the quarterfinals for the first time in sixteen years had progressed out of the group stages as runners-up of Group C, with five points in three matches but even after giving Korea Republic a tough challenge and stretching them to the limit, could not emerge victors.
In the 14th minute, Niraj Kumar was called into play and made an excellent save to deny Korea Republic from close range. He then made two back-to-back saves in the 34th and 36th minute to keep India in play as his dives saw the Korean shots from distance thwarted. The Indian Colts defended deep in the first half and pressured the opponents to give away the ball in the defending third.
In the dying embers of the first half, Ravi Rana’s shot from distance forced the Korean custodian to make a decent save as both teams went into the tunnel on level pegging as the half-time scoreline read 0-0.
Changing over, the Indian Colts emerged with much vigour and almost caught the Korean defence napping in the 52nd minute when Ridge De’Mello’s first-time volley earned a decent save from the opposition custodian after Vikram had found him just inches outside the box.
Two minutes later, Korea Republic almost gave India a scare when a free-kick attempt rattled the Indian bar and went out of play. In the 64thminute, Niraj Kumar once more made a fantastic diving save to deny the Koreans from close range.
After 337 minutes without conceding a goal, the Indian defence finally gave way in the 67th minute when Jeong Sangbin tapped him from close range after Niraj Kumar had palmed a venomous shot away.
Spurred to find the equalizer, the Indian colts initiated attacks of their own by the Korean defence line held firm. Vikram Partap proved to be a threat down the flanks but for all his possession around the box, could not create a clear goal scoring opportunity.