A defensive lapse towards the end cost India dear as they went down 1-2 against South Korea to suffer their second consecutive defeat in the Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey tournament, in Ipoh on Sunday.
After their spirited fight in the 3-4 defeat against the Australians, much was expected from the Indians but they disappointed as they were outplayed in the first half by the Koreans who led 1-0 through a goal from Kang Moon Kweon.
The Indians though regrouped in the second session and found the equaliser in the 39th minute with Malak Singh finding the target.
The goal spurred the young Indians, mostly the hopefuls of the Junior World Cup later this year, as they kept the Korean defence busy with numerous raids but conceded a goal which was result of a lapse in concentration.
Kweon scored his second goal of the match 10 minutes before the hooter via a deflection off a long hit from outside the 25 yards with at least three Indian defenders caught napping.
After this loss, the Indians will find it difficult to qualify for the final in the six-team tournament. Two top teams from the round-robin league will play in the final.
In the first half, India sat deep and looked for chances in counter-attack but they failed to get any. Michael Nobbs' boys could not get a single shot on the target in the first session.
As the match wore on, the nippy Koreans took control of the game as they got five penalty corners in the opening session as against none by the Indians.
Goalkeeper P Sreejesh continued his superb form in the Indian goal after his fine show against the Australians on Saturday. But for Sreejesh, the Korean scoreline in the first half would have been much more.
Sreejesh made a fine save in the 23rd minute off a Korean penalty corner as he dived full length to his right, deflecting the shot off Nam Hyun Woo for a long corner.
Korea took the lead in the 29th minute from their third penalty corner. Instead of taking a direct shot, the Koreans attempted a variation and Kweon found the net.
India came back strongly in the second session and equalised in the 39th minute with Malak Singh finding the target from a Mandeep Singh spadework.
Mandeep broke through the left side of the Korean defence and his low cross from near the touchline went past the Korean goalie and an onrushing Malak slammed the ball home for his second goal of the tournament.
India gained strength after the equaliser and they almost went ahead in the 44th minute but Akashdeep Singh took a long time to take a shot, allowing the Korean goalkeeper to reach to the ball. The subsequent penalty corner, the first for India in the match, could not be converted.
Mandeep was at the thick of things again in the 48 th minute off a move initiated by his captain Danish Mujtaba, which resulted to India earning their second penalty corner. But Korean goalkeeper Lee Myung Ho denied India the lead with an outstanding save.
Indian attack continued persistently and they earned their third penalty corner in the 55th minute and two more in succession but wasted both with Rupinder Pal Singh failing to find the target.
A defensive lapse in the 60th minute cost India the match as Kweon deflected a long hit from outside the 25 yards mark into goal. Three Indian defenders watched the ball going past them without reacting.
India got their fifth penalty corner in the 65th minute after a Satbir Singh strike hit the post. To the dismay of the Indians, Rupinder's drag-flick hit the post and went away.
India play arch rivals Pakistan in their third round-robin league match on Monday.
Photograph: Will Russell/Getty Images