The Indian men's football team started its Asian Games season on a memorable note as it lost 5-1 to hosts China on Tuesday. Giao Tianyi (17th minute), Dai Weijun (51st minute), Tao Qianglong (72nd and 75th minute) and Hao Fang (90+2) scored for China. Rahul KP (45+1 minute) scored India's only goal in the first half from a tight angle. It was a magnificent goal that ensured India went into the half-time break 1-1 against China. However, the second half was entirely owned by China.
That one goal from Rahul was enough to bring the Indian fans present at the Huanglong Sports Center Stadium in Hangzhou to their feet. One of these Indian fans got excited after the strike and started celebrating. One of the stadium guards told him to sit down, but he continued to celebrate.
— Rohit Sharma (@arvindkaliravna) September 19, 2023
It was heartening to see a third tier team keeping the title contenders on par in the first 45 minutes as Indian goalkeeper Gurmeet Singh Chahal bravely saved a penalty from opposing captain Zhu Chenjie.
India now has to beat Bangladesh and Myanmar in the remaining two games to qualify for the second round. Myanmar beat Bangladesh 4-2 in another game in this group.
When the third-tier Indian team reached the Games Village late on Monday evening and didn't even have four special defenders in their ranks, they lacked coordination among themselves. They appeared jetlagged, not rested enough, and there was no chance that a miracle could happen.
The gap in class and quality was evident and most Chinese attacks came from India's wide left flank (China's right flank), manned by Sumit Rathi. It became a free rider game for the Chinese attackers.
The humidity and lack of practice time also had an impact as the Indians were unable to hold out beyond the first hour. And when the second goal came due to Sandesh Jhingan's lack of anticipation, the floodgates opened.
Jhingan was also responsible for another goal when he had a brain problem and his team tried to dribble past the danger in their own penalty area and committed hara-kiri.
Many players suffered from cramps due to the humidity and clearly did not have enough time to warm up.
Captain Sunil Chhetri was on the pitch for 85 minutes and, apart from a pile driver that flew well above the horizontal, had little to do with a literally non-existent feeder line focused on creating chaos in the defensive third it to thwart the wave of Chinese attacks.
The only bright spot was the goal by Rahul KP, the former U-17 World Cup winner, who was cleared on the right wing by Abdul Rabeeh and the Kerala Blasters player sprinted and shot the ball into the goal from almost zero degrees, which impressed him greatly a sold out home crowd.
The Indians went into the break tied 1-1, but the problems went away in the second half, and that was more due to exhaustion.
Most of these players are not even first-choice substitutes for their respective ISL clubs and it was obvious that match fitness was a major issue.
But the lack of quality cannot be blamed on themselves but on the custodians of Indian football, including Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), who are thwarting the AIFF's efforts to mobilize the best players for the continental showpiece and show the FIFA rules and regulations.
With PTI inputs
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