India went down 1-0 to South Korea at the quarter-finals of the AFC U-16 Championship at the Petaling Jaya Stadium in Malaysia on Monday.
Coach Bibiano Fernandes fielded the same starting XI that took the pitch against Iran barring one, as Bikash Yumnam had to sit out with a suspension. He was replaced by Harpreet Singh.
South Korean coach Kim Jung Soo surprisingly left Moon Junho on the bench who scored a brace in their last group stage game against Iraq.
It was a patient start from India as they sat deep and looked to hit on the counter. They maintained their shape and did not allow their opponents any leeway in attack.
Niraj Kumar was called into action on the 13th minute as he made a fantastic save to deny Kim Ryun-seong. The defence failed to clear the rebound and the ball fell for Lee Junsuk whose cracking effort at goal went wide of the far post.
Korea started asking more questions as the match progressed but a resolute Indian defence stood firm. Niraj remained busy as the Koreans used the flanks to pump in crosses.
Just after the half-hour mark, the entire defence along with Niraj got beaten in the air from a flag-kick but Hong Sung-wook's header was off target.
Niraj was once again the saviour as he went on to deny Choi Minseo twice in quick succession.
Just seconds away from half-time, India got the first glimpse of goal when Ravi Rana's shot from distance forced the Korean goalkeeper to make a save.
Although the second-half started on the same note with Korea dominating possession, India could have had gone ahead after Ridge set up Givson. However, his shot was saved by Shin who fisted the ball away to safety.
Korea kept mounting the pressure and finally made the breakthrough in the 68th minute. Minseo's shot at goal was saved by Niraj but the loose ball fell for substitute Jeong Sangbin who made no mistake and found the back of the net from close range.
Coach Fernandes responded by making two changes as Bhuvnesh Shendre and Lalchhanhima Sailo were sent on to replace Rana and Givson. India did push forward in search of the equalizer but it was not an easy task to get the better of a defence which was yet to be breached in the tournament.
There would not be any more goals as India bowed out of the AFC Championship while Korea secured their ticket to the U-17 World Cup to be held in Peru next year.