Korea hold on to beat Tajikistan and end India’s qualification hopes

DPR Korea registered their second consecutive win in the 2019 Hero Intercontinental Cup, narrowly edging out Tajikistan 1-0 in the penultimate round-robin match of the tournament held at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad on Monday. The result means that like the Tajiks, Yun Jong-su’s men now have six points on the board, which also signals the end of the Blue Tigers’ slim hopes of making the final.

  • Ri Hyong Jin scored the only goal of the tie at the 32nd minute.
  • Tajikistan stepped it up in the second half but failed to find a way through.
  • Rustam Yatimov made a flurry of late saves to prevent Korea from scoring a second.

Tajikistan boss, Usmon Toshev opted against resting any of his frontline players, meaning striker Sheriddin Boboev, midfielder Ilhomjon Barotov and captain Akhtam Nazarov all started. The Koreans’ need was a more immediate one, leaving Jong-su with no option but to hand starting berths to the influential trio of Jong Il Gwan, Ri Hyong Jin and Han Thae Hyok.

Tajikistan kicked off the proceedings and kept most of the ball in the early exchanges, albeit without any success. Korea had been guilty of playing too narrow in their opening encounter against Syria and learnt from it, as they went in with a more comprehensive and all-encompassing 4-2-3-1 setup.

Both teams limited each other from shots outside the box in the first 25 minutes, with Komrom Tursunov, Pak Myong Song and Gwan all flexing their muscles with a wayward attempt on goal. The Koreans slowly started progressing deeper into Tajikistan’s half close to the 30-minute mark, playing neat one-two’s and showing good strength on the ball.

The first goal, as a result, came soon after, as the Koreans got their noses in front courtesy of Hyong Jin’s third goal of the tournament. Myong Song’s dangerous cross caused a scramble inside the Tajik box, with Thae Hyok being the first to the lose ball. The No.8 dribbled past a couple of challenges and released Hyong Jin free inside the box, who did no mistake and slotted the ball past a diving Rustam Yatimov.

Tajikistan, however, didn’t panic for the remaining period of the first half, having been in a similar position against the Blue Tigers earlier in the tournament.

Korea, understandably, retorted to a more reserved philosophy as soon as the second half began. Tajikistan had won both their previous matches against India and Syria courtesy of scintillating second half displays, which meant that an alternate idea had always been on the back of Yun Jong-su’s mind.

After a silent initial 20 minutes, the Tajiks got a quartet in a flurry, starting with Shahrom Samiev’s bicycle kick that landed straight into An Tae Song’s hands. Barotov then headed a decent opportunity wide of the marker, following which Panshanbe Ehsoni could not pick out the perfect pass that could justify his sensational solo run. The best of the lot, however, fell to the feet of Nozim Babadzhanov, who failed to convert from inside the box.

At the other hand and into the last ten minutes of the match, the Koreans had an immediate opportunity to double their lead with Kim Yong Il hitting a powerful drive from close range. Yatimov, however, was excellent as he had been all night, pulling out a strong right hand to deny the Koreans.

Late in the fixture, the Chollima stepped up their efforts and almost turned the tournament on its head, as Gwan struck a low shot that looked to be heading in if not for the efforts of Yatimov.

Coach Speak

Usmon Toshev, head coach of Tajikistan: "These kind of matches are very good for the experience. In this match, there was a really big pressure for us. For experience, this is important. The Koreans played a very good match and gave us some conclusions for the future matches."

Yun Jong-su, head coach of DPR Korea: "We don't want India to lose. Of course, if the Indian team beat Syria, we have a chance to advance to the finals. We have been preparing for this tournament for months and I think the players showed what they have trained so far at home. The players just did their best and tried to win the game."

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