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Saturday, May 18, 2024

India take on Lebanon in a possible prelude to Intercontinental Cup Final


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Bhubaneswar: Having already sealed their place in the Intercontinental Cup Final, the Indian senior men’s team will take on Lebanon in their last group match on Thursday, at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar at 19:30 IST.

After seeing off Mongolia 2-0 in the opening game, the Blue Tigers edged Vanuatu 1-0 on Friday thanks to an exquisite Sunil Chhetri strike late on, which was accompanied by a joyous celebration as he announced his wife being in the family way. Lebanon were held to a frustrating stalemate by Mongolia earlier in the day, which meant six points were enough for India to qualify for the final with a game to spare.

However, any thoughts of the India-Lebanon clash being a dead rubber must be thrown into the bin. India head coach Igor Stimac only targets a win against the Cedars and is banking on his best eleven to get the job done.

“We’re playing at home, and we come out in every game with the only aim of winning it,” affirmed Stimac.

“It doesn’t matter how Lebanon fared in their previous game. They found it tough to play two games at four in the afternoon. For us, it’s going to be a difficult match, as some of their players have enormous quality. They do have weaknesses also, of course, which we could see. So, it will be an interesting game, maybe not beautiful, but definitely interesting,” he previewed.

The match is crucial for India in the broader sense of the FIFA Rankings. With Lebanon currently placed at 99 and India at 101, a win for the Blue Tigers will see them overtake the Cedars and break into the top 100 again.

After India had to battle really hard against Vanuatu on Friday, only breaking the deadlock in the 80th minute, Stimac shared the good and the bad of the result.

“Many things were not as I wanted them to be, and we will work on them. But many things were beautiful as well, which we could enjoy,” he said, sharing his delight with the fact that his side didn’t lose faith and tried their best to score until the end, which they did.

“It’s important to break teams down early because as time progresses, it gets tougher and tougher. We saw that in Lebanon’s game against Mongolia as well,” Stimac added.

Sharing possible insights on who all the fans could expect to see in the line-up on Thursday, Stimac said, “22 of my players have played in the first two games. Now, after the last training session before the next game, we will see which is the best and the fittest eleven which could win against Lebanon.”

After failing to beat Mongolia and missing the opportunity to cement their place in the final, Lebanon have it all to do against India. A draw will be enough for Aleksandar Ilić’s side to set up a rematch against the hosts in the final, but should Mongolia beat Vanuatu in the earlier kick-off, a defeat for them will see the situation come down to goal difference.

Assessing Lebanon’s draw against the East Asians and explaining the areas for improvement, Ilić said, “We did well in terms of running and positioning ourselves on the pitch. We controlled the game for not just 90 but 100 minutes, and Mongolia couldn’t come near our goal. But our decisions in the final third and the final passes haven’t been up to the mark. This is the most important problem for us at the moment, and we’ll need to do better. We need to have better connections between our strikers.”

With a much closer contest on the cards against India, the Cedars know they have to make the most of every opportunity they get going forward.

“India is the best challenge for us in this tournament, and we really need to improve our level for that game. We are still not qualified for the final since things still depend on the Mongolia-Vanuatu match and our game with India. It’s been tough playing every three days in such weather, but we knew of the conditions before arriving here and will give our best,” said Ilić.

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