India face Lebanon in Intercontinental Cup, aim to break into top-100

Bhubaneswar: Buoyant India will take on a higher-ranked Lebanon with an aim to break into top-100 in FIFA rankings, in their last round-robin clash of the Intercontinental Cup, here on Thursday.

In pursuit of a second title, the Blue Tigers have sealed a spot in the final with wins over Mongolia and Vanuatu, which will serve as a prelude to Sunday’s summit clash for the Igor Stimac-coached side.

The match is crucial for India as Lebanon are currently placed at 99 and the hosts at 101, and a win for the Blue Tigers will see them overtake the Cedars and break into the top-100 again.

India had achieved their best-ever FIFA rankings of 94 in February 1996 in the golden era of Bhaichung Bhutia and IM Vijayan.

As for Lebanon, it’s a do-or-die opportunity after failing to beat Mongolia. A draw will be enough for Aleksandar Ilic’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 will see the equation coming down to goal difference.

“We’re playing at home, and we come out in every game with the only aim of winning it,” said 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,” the Croat added. India are yet to concede a goal in the tournament but they have struggled to score up front as well. It took a brilliant strike from Sunil Chhetri late in the 80th minute to seal the game against little-known Vanuatu on Friday. “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,” Stimac said.

“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.

Assessing Lebanon’s goalless draw against Mongolia, Ilic 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,” he added. With a much closer contest on the cards against India, the Cedars know they will have to make the most of every opportunity.

“India are 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,” the Lebanon coach signed off.