The strategy of head coach Stephen Constantine to make seven changes in his starting eleven did not yield the desired result as India suffered a 1-2 defeat at the hands of New Zealand in their last league match of the Intercontinental Cup soccer tournament in Mumbai on Thursday.
Despite the defeat, the Indian team still has one foot in the final, which will be played on June 10 with six points from two previous victories. The home team had beaten Chinese Taipei (5-0) and Kenya (3-0).
India took the lead through captain Sunil Chhetri in the 47th minute, but New Zealand rebounded with goals from Andre Earnest De Jong (49th) and Moses Dyer (86th) as the Indian defense looked unstable throughout the match .
For Chhetri, who was playing in his 101st match, it was his 62nd international goal, equaling players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic (62 of 116 matches) from Sweden and Ronaldo (62 of 98 matches) from Brazil.
If Kenya defeated Chinese Taipei on Friday, it will be a complicated calculation to decide who will play in the final. In that situation, the three teams (India, Kenya and Chinese Taipei) will get six points each and will be considered the direct results and then the difference of goals.
Since, India has a goal difference of plus 7 compared to over 1 of New Zealand, they have a great chance of reaching the final.
New Zealand had more chances in the first half, as they kept the Indian defense under intense pressure after half an hour of play. But they could not find the Indian network and both teams went to the respirator aimlessly.
Right after the restart, Chhetri scored in the strangest way, giving his team a 1-0 lead.
A pass back to New Zealand guard Woud drove him forward, but his poor clearance hit Chhetri’s foot and he rolled toward the goal.
But, the joy of India was short-lived. Sarpreet Singh slid the ball through De Jong, who gave a fine final touch, sending the ball to the right corner of the net.
After the comfortable victories in the first two games, Constantine made up to seven changes in his starting lineup, although he made five substitutions later.
One of them was goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who left room for Amrinder Singh. He had also initially sent Jeje Lalpekhua and Sandesh Jhinghan, who were back in the second half.
New Zealand showed an aggressive attempt and in the third minute Sarpreet Singh descended from the top but Amrinder stopped him to the left. Jai Ingham was close, but Salam Ranjan Singh kicked the ball.
The second chance for the Kiwis came in the 13th minute when right-back Justin Gulley crossed the ball in an angle with Andre De Jong, whose header went over the crossbar.
For India, Chhetri did well to get the ball down from a diagonal pass by Mohd Rafique, but Kiwi custodian Micheal Woud took it. The captain of India appealed for a penalty but was rejected by the referee.
After 28 minutes, Udanta Singh came on for Rafique.
The best chance for New Zealand in the first half came in the 35th minute when Ingham floated a corner to the near post, which was headed by Myer Bevan, but Amrinder managed to keep him at bay.
Minutes before the break came two good opportunities for India. Chhetri had made his way to the center to give the ball to Ashique, but the end took a long time to get to the ball.
Another opportunity was when Ashique sent a cross that was directed back to Chhetri by Balwant Singh, but the captain of India fired over the bar. At halftime, the score was 0-0.
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