Resilient India lose 4-8 to Japan, exit AFC U-17 Asian Cup

India’s desperate efforts went in vain as they succumbed to a 4-8 defeat against Japan in their final Group D match of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup at the Rajamangala National Stadium.

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India fought their way back in the second half, giving Japan a tough challenge before eventually falling short. The Blue Colts needed a win to keep their hopes alive for a spot in the tournament’s quarter-finals. However, their hopes were dashed, and they were eliminated from the competition.

India had to make one change to their starting lineup, with Mukul Panwar replacing the suspended Pramveer in the centre-back position.

Japan started the game dominantly, maintaining possession, while India opted for a mid-block strategy. The Blue Colts aimed to contain Japan and restrict their movements to a narrow area. Thanglalsoun Gangte operated as the lone player in the centre circle, looking to hold up the ball for counter-attacks.

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Lalpekhlua Ralte made a couple of runs down the left flank, while Korou supported Gangte by cutting inside. However, despite their energetic runs and off-the-ball movements, Japan’s superior quality was evident as they repeatedly came close to scoring.

Gakuto Kawamura broke the deadlock for Japan, seizing a rebound at the edge of the area and smashing it into the net. He almost doubled their lead shortly after when his long-range shot hit the woodwork.

India’s only chance in the first half came when Vanlalpeka Guite lofted a ball into the Japan box, which Korou Singh volleyed straight at the opposing goalkeeper.

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The missed opportunity would haunt India later on, as Gaku Nawata broke through the defence and calmly slotted the ball past Sahil to give Japan a 2-0 advantage. Just before halftime, Nawata added a third goal, making it 3-0 in Japan’s favour.

India displayed more determination in the second half and quickly pulled a goal back from a set-piece. Guite delivered a free-kick from the left flank, and an airborne Mukul Panwar tapped it in.

However, Japan responded promptly with two goals within a few minutes, scored by Shuto Nagano and Yumeki Yoshinaga.

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Despite being 1-5 down, the Indian Colts refused to give up on the championship. Their goal injected life into their counter-attacks, which had been lacking in their previous two matches.

Just over the one-hour mark, Gangte surged forward on the left, reached the byline, and cut the ball back for Danny Meitei to tap it into the net.

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On the other end, a foul by Mukul inside the Indian penalty area resulted in a penalty awarded to Japan. However, India’s goalkeeper Sahil Poonia stood tall and dived to his right, saving Ryunosuke Sato’s penalty. Sahil quickly launched a counter-attack that saw Danny sprinting into the Japan box from the right. As he attempted to cross the ball to Gangte, a deflection off Japan defender Daiki Miyagawa inadvertently resulted in a goal. The scoreline now stood at 3-5, making Japan’s lead less comfortable.

However, the team from the far East found their way back as Yotaro Nakajim scored their sixth goal of the night, extending their lead to 6-3. Yet, the Indian side refused to relent.

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With only 10 minutes remaining, Lalpekhlua Ralte raced into the box and cut the ball back for captain Korou to tap it home. Japan still led 6-4.

The Blue Colts were experiencing an upswing, carrying the momentum in the game, while Japan seemed cautious. Although the disparity in quality between the two teams was evident, Japan appeared concerned. India transitioned from a mid-press to a high-press strategy, causing the Blue Samurais’ defenders to struggle.

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The referee called for eight minutes of stoppage time, offering hope to the Blue Colts. During a significant portion of injury time, India’s relentless high press kept Japan pinned in their own half, unable to break free.

Japan’s Gota Yamaguchi and Shungo Sugiora then scored consecutive goals to seal the win.

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