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India gear up for a do-or-die tie against North Korea

Ahmedabad: Embarrassed by Tajikistan in the opening match, hosts India will be desperate for a better show when they take on North Korea in a do-or-die match of Intercontinental Cup football tournament, here on Saturday.

Defending champions India suffered a 2-4 defeat against Tajikistan on July 7 and that result has placed them in a precarious position in the race for the final.

The top two teams will make it to the final in the four-team event. India cannot lose any match out of the remaining two if they are to qualify for the final on July 19.

India led 2-0 at half time against Tajikistan through goals from captain Sunil Chhetri but then let in four goals in the second half to lose the match. An out-of-sorts Indian defence crumbled into pieces and undid all the good work done in the first session.

Adil Khan and debutant Narender Gahlot, who manned the central defence, were found wanting on many occasions, while wing backs Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Desai also struggled. Most of Tajikistan attacks came from the right side through Bheke.

The Indian back-four committed mistakes after mistakes in the second half but to be fair to them, all of them were an inexperienced lot at the international stage. Gahlot and Desai debuted for India in that match while Adil and Bheke were just a few matches old.

Senior player and defensive mainstay Sandesh Jhingan did not play as he had a minor niggle while his earlier long time partner in central defence, Anas Edathodika, who was called out from retirement, was not 100 per cent fit and did not make it to the final 23-member squad.

But the Indian team will now be boosted with the likely return of Jhingan who is available for the North Korea match. He is expected to marshall the Indian defence to a much improved show.

North Korea will also go into Saturday’s match with the same mind set as India as they had suffered a 2-5 defeat against Syria in their campaign opener.

Their defence also looked shaky against Syria, letting in five goals, with four coming in the second half, and Chhetri and Co. Will look to exploit the chinks in North Korea’s armoury.

Chhetri scored India’s first goal against Tajikistan through a cheeky ‘panenka’ from the dreaded spot in the fourth minute and another clinical finish in the 41st minute to showcase his goal-scoring prowess.

The talismanic Indian captain would look to continue his red-hot form and if the home side defence come up with an improved show, Igor Stimac’s men would hope for their first win of the tournament.

Goalkepeer Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said the team can fix the mistakes.

“It’s not much of a worry for me as a player and for my other teammates as well. I am sure that everyone is ready to learn, which is important, and make sure that we grow stronger day by day.”

“The whole team is focused on the match against DPR Korea. What’s done is done and we are not thinking about the loss to Tajikistan. We have been working hard so as to not repeat the mistakes we made. We want to play better,” said midfielder Amarjit Singh.

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