| Bhaichung Bhutia caught in a Chinese defensive web in Busan Thursday
Busan: A dubious penalty and three missed chances cost India dear on a cold evening at the Yangsan Public Stadium Thursday.
China won by a couple of goals to top group C but they were tested to the hilt by the Indians who played out of their skin. The bottomline, though, is that Stephen Constantine’s boys are all but out of the Asian Games football competition.
India finished their league campaign with six points and a goal difference of plus three. That isn’t enough to take them through as one of the two best second-placed teams from the six groups.
It was Oman’s 5-0 rout of Maldives, which actually sealed India’s fate. Oman finished second in group A with a points tally and goal difference similar to India’s, but in the ‘goals for’ column they have eight (against India’s six).
The other runner-up team is set to advance from group F. North Korea and Kuwait, who face each other Saturday, both have six points, but far superior goal differences and goals for quotients. Only a 4-0 result in the North Koreans’ favour keep Indian hopes burning.
There is a threat from group D, too, where Bahrain will be a better placed runner-up team than India if they manage a three-goal victory over Palestine Saturday.
Lady luck just did not smile on India Thursday. They were pegged back by a 16th-minute penalty which looked harsh. Samir Naik’s tackle on Yu Tao in the striking area was fair, but Iranian referee Moradi Masoud got conned by the Chinese medio’s theatrical dive. Tao himself got up to blast the ball to Rajat Ghosh Dastidar’s right.
That goal spurred the Indians to a series of constructive activity. Naik first laid a through ball for Bhaichung Bhutia who was standing in an off-side position. The linesman’s flag didn’t go up and the Indian skipper worked his way forward to fire a right-footer which was just about palmed away by ’keeper Yang Jun for a corner.
The very next minute saw Abhishek Yadav’s curling centre being slapped away by an acrobatic Jun before Bhaichung could get a head to the ball. In the 44th minute, Bhaichung found Bijen Singh on the left flank. As Bijen essayed a centre, Yadav sold a dummy to World Cup defender Du Wei leaving Venkatesh with a clear look at the goal. The medio did shoot, but couldn’t beat Jun.
Into the last minute of stoppage time in the opening session, a lax Indian defence let in a second goal. A high cross from Wang Xinxin was diverted to Tao whose rasping volley beat Rajat hands down.
The Indians, desperate to pull at least one back, had a couple of half-chances in the second half. Bhaichung’s flick, from a Venkatesh corner, was just wide. Yadav’s fine header, beating Wei, kissed the crossbar and went over.
For much of the match, played on a slippery turf following a sharp shower just before kick-off, India matched China in every department. Nothing went past Dipak Mondal and Mahesh Gawli, who got injured and had to be taken off after 55 minutes.
The midfielders did their job admirably, with Jo Paul Ancheri, K. Aajayan, Naik and Venkatesh falling back to help the defence at the slightest hint of danger. Rajat had a good game too after overcoming a nervous start.
The passing and the build-ups, especially in the first 45 minutes, were remarkable. It’s a tragedy the Indians couldn’t utilise the chances that came their way.
The Chinese were swifter and better when launching their counter-attacks. But they could rarely breach the Indian defence. The fact that the Indians created more chances speaks volumes of their performance.
The least Bhaichung’s boys deserved was a draw. But, at the end of the day, it’s the bottomline which counts. And the bottomline is, India didn’t do enough to avoid defeat.
China: Yang Jun, Du Wei, Wang Sheng, Hu Zhaojun, Sun Xiang, Lu Feng, Wang Xinxin, Xu Liang (Zhou Lin, 67), Zhang Yao Kun, Qu Bo, Yu Tao, Yang Jun.
India: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Debjit Ghosh, Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli (Monitombi Singh, 55); S. Venkatesh, Abhishek Yadav, Jo Paul Ancheri (Satish Bharti, 64), K. Ajayan, Samir Naik, Bijen Singh (Alex Ambrose, 61), Bhaichung Bhutia.
Referee: Moradi Masoud (Iran).
n China biggest cheats, says Bhaichung: Page 24