New Delhi: The official announcement of India's entry to the 2014 World Cup was put on hold when they lost an evenly-contested 9th Asia Cup final to South Korea thanks to a 68th-minute strike by Kang Moon Kweon, which landed the Koreans their fourth Asia Cup crown with a 4-3 scoreline.
India, who were looking for a win to earn a direct entry to the World Cup, will now wait for either Australia or New Zealand to win the Oceania title to sneak through. With Fiji and Samoa being the other two teams in Oceania, India are virtually through as second reserves, but it will become official only in November.
The final was fought keenly by the two teams with goals coming thick and fast, especially in the second half. The Koreans led 2-0 at half-time, courtesy a penalty-corner (PC) strike by Jang Jong Hyun (28th min) and You Hyo Sik, who surprised with a field goal in the very next minute.
India came back in the second half through drag-flicker Rupinderpal Singh in the 48th minute, when he beat the Korean 'keeper on a PC. Scores were levelled at 2-2 seven minutes later when in the 55th minute, young striker Nikin Thimmaiah sounded the board with an opportunistic goal.
South Korea, though, restored their lead two minutes later through a penalty stroke. Sreejesh couldn't stop a strong grounder to his left by Man Hyun Woo who put his team ahead 3-2. Mandeep enhanced his reputation as India's most promising youngster when, in the 66th minute, he collected an intelligent pass off Ramandeep Singh from close range in the striking circle. Mandeep calmly volleyed it in for India's equaliser.
At 3-3 and with four minutes left on the clock, the match looked like going into the penalty shootout. But a penalty corner in the 68th minute gave Koreans the opportunity to go ahead, and Kan Moon Kweon made no mistake to flick home the winner off a set-piece
The bronze medal went to Pakistan, who beat Malaysia 3-1 earlier in the day in the 3rd-4th place playoff match. However, the Pakistanis have failed to stay in hunt for a World Cup place and will miss the quadrennial event for the first time in history.
India's PR Sreejesh was named 'Goalkeeper of the Tournament', while defender VR Raghunath won the 'Player of the Tournament' award.