| VIJAYAN: First strike
Margao: Saving their best for the second half, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held India 1-1 in their Group G Asia Cup qualifying match at the Nehru Stadium here on Sunday.
India took time to settle down but took a 1-0 lead by half time through striker I.M. Vijayan in the 30th minute. The North Koreans restored parity in the 84th through Choe Hyon-u.
Thus, DPRK who beat India 2-0 at home, filled the last spot in Group D and qualified for the next round along with Iran, Jordan and Lebanon.
The North Koreans, knowing a draw was enough to take them to the next round, played a cautious game in the first half. They did not exert themselves much in the scorching heat and had their first scoring chance when a Myong San-chol cross from the right was headed goalwards by Pak Song-gwan but was parried by Indian ’keeper Naseem Akhtar.
The Indians launched a few raids and opened the rival defence twice but striker Abhishek Yadav and Alex Ambrose lacked the punch.
Then, Indian coach Stephen Constantine made a quick change bringing in Vijayan in place of Ambrose and the hosts’ attack started looking more organised. Vijayan responded to his coach’s call and put India ahead with a stunning header.
From the right, Climax Lawrence fed one to Vijayan inside the box who positioned himself sweetly between two North Koreans before sending in a powerful header which found the far post.
India had a chance to increase their lead when Alvito D’Cunha, who controlled the midfield spraying occasional passes upfront, missed the target narrowly in injury time.
After the lemon break, DPRK played with more vigour and more ball possession pushing India on the defensive. They nearly succeeded in breaking through the 63rd minute when Choe Ung-chon’s free kick from the left hit the post and Rim Kun-u failed to cash in off the rebound.
The Indians lacked firepower up front and the experienced Bhaichung Bhutia’s absence was felt acutely.
The North Koreans, who kept on pressure, finally succeeded in finding the equaliser in the 84th minute. Jon Yong-chol took a flag kick from the right and floated the ball in near the goalmouth. As ’keeper Akhtar punched the ball away, it fell at the feet of Choe Hyon-u, who unleashed a left footer that hit the inner edge of the bar before finding the net.
The Indians went all out in the last ten minutes and had two scoring chances but Vijayan failed to convert, bungling an open chance from close and later seeing his shot parried by ’keeper Ri Myong-dok.