King's Cup: India falls prey to Curacao in Igor Stimac's first test

India failed the Curacao challenge as Igor Stimac and co. were handed a 1-3 defeat in the Croat's first match in charge at the King's Cup.

Sunil Chhetri scored from the spot but it wasn't enough as India lost 1-3 to Curacao in the King's Cup opener.   -  AIFF Media

Igor Stimac's reign as India coach got off to a losing start as the side succumbed 1-3 to Curacao in the opening match of the King's Cup 2019 in Buriram, Thailand on Wednesday.

Captain Sunil Chhetri, who became the most-capped Indian international with 108 appearances, scored in the 31st minute but goals from Luis Bonevacia, Elson Hooi and Leandro Bacuna meant Curacao progressed to the final.

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Stimac's starting XI included debutants Rahul Bheke, Sahal Abdul Samad and Brandon Fernandes and the side began in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Chhetri leading the attack.

Curacao got off to a good start as it enjoyed a lion's share of possession, but India stepped up soon with youngster Sahal having the first chance of the match in the eighth minute. Deep in the midfield, Brandon played a lob upfront for Samad, who did well to get past his markers and connect with the delivery. The Kerala Blasters midfielder's cross however went in vain as winger Lallianzuala Chhangte couldn't connect.

The Indians were left to rue the chance as Curacao went on to strike two goals in as many minutes to seize the advantage.

In the 16th minute, Curacao attacked from the right and Pronay Halder's sloppy tackle at the edge of the box allowed the ball to surge in. Magno Nepomuceno's cross was meticulously dealt with by Bonevacia, who side-footed the ball past a helpless Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Hooi doubled the side's lead as he received a long ball on the left flank, raced past Jhingan, and rounded Gurpreet to find the back of the net.

Around the half hour mark, the trailing Indian team was awarded a penalty after Samad was fouled in the box by Alexander Carolina. Chhetri delivered from the spot, scoring his 68th goal to make it 2-1. But the joy was short-lived as Bacuna scored soon after.

In the 33rd minute, a cheeky backheel found Bacuna on the edge of the box, and with the Indian defense standing still, the Netherlands-born player sent it past a diving Gurpreet to make it 3-1.

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Staring at a two-goal deficit, India tried to build momentum from the middle when Chhetri found Samad in the centre. The latter passed it on to Udanta Singh on the right, but the Bengaluru winger's strike was blocked by the Curacao goalkeeper.

Stimac handed three more debuts in the second half with the introduction of Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Raynier Fernandes and Soosairaj Michael. Their addition helped India maintain its shape, and combine better. But Curacao kept testing the Indian defence, as Hooi unleashed a long-range strike in the 64th minute which forced Gurpreet to make an acrobatic save.

As the rain poured in, India tried reducing the deficit, but couldn't find the target. Chhetri came close to scoring on two occasions but hit the woodwork once, and later saw his effort fly over the bar. The skipper was involved in the last chance of the match when his corner-kick was headed in by Sandesh Jhingan, but his header found no way past the Curacao custodian.

India will next will play Thailand in the third place playoff on June 8.

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