India aim for maiden win over DPR Korea to keep Hero Intercontinental Cup hopes alive
Having lost their opening match against Tajikistan, the Indian national football team will be eager to bounce back with a win over DPR Korea to keep their hopes of reaching the final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 alive when they face the North Koreans at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad on Saturday.
With their last round-robin match against the mighty Syria, Igor Stimac and men will definitely be looking for all three points from Saturday's match to give themselves a fighting chance of defending their title. Here's what fans can expect from the match.
DPR Korea were once considered a powerhouse in Asian football, having famously reached the quarter-finals of the 1966 FIFA World Cup and then making an appearance again in the 2010 edition. On the continental stage, The Chollima, as they are famously called, have won several honours like the Asian Games in 1978, the AFC Challenge Cup in 2010 and 2012. They have even tasted success on Indian soil, lifting the Nehru Cup in 1993. The team, however, has struggled to live up to their billing in the last few years. Currently ranked 122nd in the FIFA Rankings, DPR Korea are the worst-ranked team in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 and are winless in their last seven matches, losing their last six on a trot, including the 5-2 drubbing against Syria in their opening match of the tournament. They have also conceded a whopping 28 times in these seven and scored just four.
On the flipside, they do boast an impeccable record against Blue Tigers. The two teams have faced off eight times in the past, with Korea winning five, India none and the rest ending in draws.
Coached by Yun Jong-su, the Koreans are a hard-working outfit full of willing runners. The team likes to play possessional football, relying on short quick passes to break down opposition defences. They, however, tend to stay narrow while defending, making them vulnerable against teams adept at stretching the game by using the wings.
On the personnel front, India will need to be particularly wary of captain Jong Il Gwan. Named the AFC Youth Player of the Year back in 2010, the 26-year-old forward is the most potent goal threat in the current Korea squad, having netted 21 times in 63 appearances for the national squad. Midfielder Ri Un Il, who operated down the left against Syria was central to everything good Korea achieved going forward in the match and will be another danger man the Indians will need to contain on Saturday. Former Wigan Athletic player Sim Hyon-jin will be another one to look out for during the match.
Despite having lost the first match, India head coach Igor Stimac made it very clear that the focus is on the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers starting in September and he will be giving opportunities to as many players as he possibly can leading up to it. Already having handed out nine debuts in his three matches in charge, expect the Croat to make wholesale changes to the starting XI once again. Squad members like Rowllin Borges, Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal, Brandon Fernandes, Pronay Halder and others, who didn't play in the last match are very likely to start against DPR Korea on Saturday.
Striker Jobby Justin was thrown in as a late substitute against Tajikistan and it won't be surprising to see him start from the get-go against Korea. Three of India's four goals in the Stimac era has come off the boots of Sunil Chhetri. However, with Stimac promising to give everyone game time, it will be interesting to see if the Croat starts with his star man or leaves him on the bench as he did in the King's Cup third-place playoff match against Thailand.
Sandesh Jhingan was restricted to the bench owing to a minor knock in the last match and if fit, may very well start the match. A major focus in this Indian outfit will be midfielder Amarjit Singh. Despite playing just three matches in the India jersey till now, the 18-year-old has already proved to be a vital component in Stimac's system. The hard-working youngster is equally adept at screening the backline when off the ball and linking up play when in possession, making him an integral asset. One interesting point to note is that the Blue Tigers have never conceded when Amarjit has been on the pitch.
Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV from 8 PM.