Hangzhou, September 19 (IANS): Despite a brave first half performance, India fell to hosts China 1-5 in their opening group game at the 19th Asian Games at the Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium, here on Tuesday.
Rahul KP scored India's only goal in injury time of the first half.
It was but natural that the hosts would kick the game off at a frenetic pace, buoyed as they were by a partisan crowd. The vigour and passion generated by the anthems had barely subsided when they conjured their first chance, Tao Qianglong crossing from the left only for Xu Haoyang to put his header wide. It was a sign of things to come.
China repeatedly targeted the Indian right through the early exchanges, Qianglong running riot, and with ease. In the 13th minute, Tan Long was played through by Dai Weijun, a brilliant through ball undoing the Indian defence. Long shot at goal from close range but a snap reflex by Gurmeet saw the attempt saved. In the end it didn’t matter, the linesman had ruled it offside.
By then though India had started growing into the game, led by Sunil Chhetri, who dropped back repeatedly to pick the ball and hold possession. A minute later India had a first attempt at goal, via who else but the history maker himself. A misjudged run by Sumit Rathi saw the ball ricochet into space on China's left. Chhetri picked it up and drove at a back-pedalling China defence before letting fly from 35 yards. The ball flew over, but only just. China had been put on notice.
Minutes later though, the hosts had the lead. First, another cross from the left saw Qianglond volley at goal from close range, and again Gurmeet parried it away. From the resultant corner came the goal. Weijun headed the delivery across the goal straight into the path of Gao Tianyi who volleyed from inside the six yard box to give them the lead.
Chasing the game, India were forced to commit more to the attack and it proved costly in the 24th minute, when a wayward pass from the back saw Long bear down on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat. Gurmeet infringed upon the attacker conceding a penalty, and then quickly redeemed himself by saving Weijun's effort.
It proved to be the catalyst India perhaps needed. China became overly cautious and India’s midfield caught some much-needed space. In injury time, Abdul Anjukandan played a ball over the top to release Rahul KP running in from the right. The winger took the ball and in one clean motion shot at goal. He had a defender, a goalkeeper and a narrow angle to beat and he went three for three, leaving the stadium stunned at the break. India were level.
China retook the lead six minutes into the second half, Dai Weijun scoring from long range to spark jubilation in the stands. From thereon the hosts took a stranglehold on the game, denying India's tiring squad the ball and forcing them into long periods of defending.
In the 72nd minute, Wang Haijian shot again from distance, his effort deflecting en route to the Indian goal. Gurmeet adjusted brilliantly to parry, but unfortunately for him the ball fell straight into the path of an onrushing Qianglong who tapped it in. Qianglong added a second to his tally with a kneed volley three minutes later to effectively kill the game. H Fang added a fifth in injury time to compound India's misery in a game they deserved more from than they got.