Despite a valiant first-half effort, the Indian men’s football team crushed to a 1-5 defeat to host China in their opening group match at the 19th Asian Games on Tuesday, at the Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium in Hangzhou.
Rahul KP managed to score India’s lone goal during injury time in the first half.
China consistently exploited the Indian right flank in the early exchanges, with Qianglong causing havoc. In the 13th minute, Tan Long received a precise through ball from Dai Weijun, breaching India’s defense. Long took a shot from close range, but Gurmeet’s quick reflexes saved the attempt. However, it was ruled offside by the linesman.
Despite this, India started to find their footing in the game, with Sunil Chhetri playing a pivotal role by dropping back to control possession. A minute later, India had their first goal attempt, courtesy of Chhetri himself. A well-timed run by Sumit Rathi created space on China’s left flank, and Chhetri capitalized, taking a long-range shot from 35 yards that narrowly missed the target, putting China on alert.
Shortly thereafter, China took the lead. Another left-wing cross resulted in Qianglong volleying from close range, but Gurmeet made another crucial save. However, the subsequent corner led to the opening goal. Weijun’s header across the goal found Gao Tianyi, who volleyed from inside the six-yard box to give China the lead.
To chase the game, India had to commit more players to the attack, which proved costly in the 24th minute when a misplaced pass from the back allowed Long to charge toward the goal. Gurmeet fouled Long, conceding a penalty, but then redeemed himself by saving Weijun’s spot-kick.
This turn of events spurred India into action, and China became more cautious, allowing India’s midfield to find space. In injury time, Abdul Anjukandan played a superb ball over the top, releasing Rahul KP on the right. Rahul seized the opportunity, shooting cleanly to beat the defender, goalkeeper, and a tight angle, equalizing for India just before halftime.
China regained the lead six minutes into the second half, with Dai Weijun scoring from long range, leading to jubilation in the stands. From that point on, China took control of the game, denying India’s fatigued squad possession and forcing them into extended periods of defending.
In the 72nd minute, Wang Haijian attempted another long-range shot, with the deflection requiring a brilliant save from Gurmeet. Unfortunately for him, the ball fell to Qianglong, who tapped it in for his second goal. Three minutes later, Qianglong scored his second with a well-placed volley, effectively sealing the game. H Fang added a fifth in injury time, compounding India’s disappointment in a match where they deserved more than they ultimately achieved.
India have two more games left against Bangladesh (September 21) and Myanmar (September 24), and will can qualify for the knockout stages if they manage to win both those games.