India lost 5-1 to China in their opening game of the Asian Games, with the wheels falling off in the second half, as the Indian players' fitness levels did not last the distance after a couple of days of arduous travels.
The hosts began the game on fire in the first half, as they created chance after chance in the first 20 minutes. They got the ball wide and put crosses into the box, and India had to call on Gurmeet Singh to make a couple of saves in the first 10 minutes.
But after India defended a corner unimpressively, Gao Tianyi slammed home from close range to give the hosts the lead. India then conceded a penalty soon after, as Tan Long intercepted Ayush Chhetri's pass and took the ball around Gurmeet before being brought down by the goalkeeper, who made amends by saving Chinese captain Chenjie Zhu's spot-kick.
China stepped off the gas towards the end of the first half, and that proved to be costly for them as Rahul KP scored a superb goal to draw India back level.Abdul Rabeeh lifted a hopeful pass forward, Rahul used his speed to get to it and then slammed an unerring finish at the goalkeeper's near-post from what seemed like a prohibitive angle.
China began the second half on the frontfoot once again and retook the lead in the 50th minute through Dai Weijun's strike from distance. India's fitness then gave way, as Rabeeh, Bryce Miranda and Sumit Rathi all began fighting cramps.
China wrapped up the contest with two quick goals from Qianglong Tao, before substitute Hao Fang put the exclamation on the victory in second-half stoppage time.
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. The focus, now, is likely to be on physical recovery ahead of the clash against neighbours Bangladesh in less than 48 hours.
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The Indian Men's Football team take on China in their opening match of the Asian Games, after a week of uncertainty. The Indian team landed in Hangzhou less than 24 hours before kickoff, so a tough task awaits the Sunil Chhetri-led side.
Coach Igor Stimac already said before the team's departure that he isn't as focused on the opening game against China, with the two remaining games against Bangladesh and Myanmar being more important in his eyes.
"Having two days preparation prior to big games never served us well...It's obvious how India is different when there is long camp versus a short camp," Stimac said. He also said that it shouldn't surprise anyone if he rests his two senior-most players, Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan, for this game against China.
The hosts have named a completely different squad for the Asian Games compared to the one that played in the AFC U23 Asian Cup qualifiers last week - where they beat India 2-1 and drew 1-1 against the UAE and qualified for the tournament to be held in Qatar next year.
"This Chinese team has been playing together for some time. They will play in a 4-4-2 formation and they have a tower of a striker, they will be a very, very tough opposition. We need to consider if we want to invest our full energy into this game or skip it," Stimac said about his team's first opponents at the Asian Games.
India, on the other hand, have named only a handful of players who were in the squad for those qualifiers - including Narendar Gehlot, Sumit Rathi and Rohit Danu. The Asian Games, alongside the AFC U23 Asian Cup qualifiers have presented a challenge to Indian Football like few others previously have, with ISL clubs not releasing their players outside the FIFA window, but now the cards have been dealt. Whether Stimac and his side can make the most of the hand they've been dealt remains to be seen.
If they can begin with a positive result against China, then that will go a long way into securing their place in the knockouts, with more presentable winning opportunities awaiting against Bangladesh and Myanmar.