A spirited Indian U-16 football team suffered a 0-1 lose to heavyweights South Korea U-16 in the quarterfinals of the AFC U-16 Championship on Monday at the Petaling Jaya Stadium, Kuala Lumpur.
Substitute Jeong Sang-bin slotted Korea Republic's winner in the 68th minute, assuring a semifinal clash against Tajikistan and a direct qualification to the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
A series of passes up-front allowed Korea’s Choi Min-seo with a shy on the target. Indian goalkeeper Niraj Kumar managed to block the shot but a surging Sang-bin, who went unmarked, netted into an empty net off the rebound.
The Indian colts went down fighting to South Korea, who enjoyed majority of the possession and dictated play throughout the match. India held a solid defence to keep their opponents at bay in the first half.
Niraj Kumar, despite conceding a goal, had a prolific day. He made a stunning save off Kim Ryun-seong's effort in the 14th minute to deny the Taeguk Warriors an early advantage. Niraj held his nerve to make back-to-back saves in the 34th minute and 37th minute when he dived-low to save Choi Min-seo's strike on the bottom right corner.
India's front-line who hardly troubled Korean goalkeeper Shin Song-hoon, came agonisingly close when Ravi Bahadur swung a stunner from 30 metres in added time. However, Song-hoon was on his toes to clear Bahadur's shot, keeping the game goalless at half-time.
In the second half, India threatened with a flurry of attacks in the final-third but failed to get past the Korean wall. Korea's tight line forced Givson Singh Moirangthem to unleash a half-volley from distance in the 52nd minute forcing Song-hoon to claw the ball away.
India, who had qualified to the quarters after a gap of 16 years, fell short of their first-ever merit entry into the U-17 World Cup. Earlier in 2002, India U-16 had lost 1-3 to Korea in 2002 in the same stage.
(With Agency inputs)