Chiang Mai (Thailand): After an agonising defeat on penalties to Iraq, the Indian senior men’s team is set to face Lebanon in the 49th King’s Cup third-place play-off on Sunday.
The contest, which will be the Blue Tigers’ fourth in three months against the West Asians, will kick off at 16:00 IST at the 700th Anniversary Stadium here in Thailand.
India did not concede a goal in the three meetings against Lebanon. A 0-0 draw in the Intercontinental Cup was followed by a clinical 2-0 win in the final in Bhubaneswar. The two sides met again in the SAFF Championship semi-finals, where Igor Stimac’s side came out on top on penalties after 120 goalless minutes.
In the pre-match press conference, Stimac admitted that both teams know each other in and out, and another exciting encounter will be on the cards on Sunday.
“It’s now a regular competition between India and Lebanon. The fourth match in three months. We know each other very well. There is no secret,” said the Croatian.
“So for us coaches, it’s a much easier job. No need to analyse the opponents too much. So it’s just about concentrating and focusing on our own game, our players, and how to be effective on the pitch in 90 minutes,” he said.
Lebanon head coach and Stimac’s former club teammate and good friend Aleksandar Ilic stated likewise. His side will be itching for payback against the Blue Tigers, who got the better of them in both summer tournaments in India.
“It has started to become a strange competition between the two teams. We’ve already played a lot of games in the past. It will be one open game and, of course, both teams will try their best to succeed,” said Ilic.
Lebanon were beaten 1-2 by hosts Thailand in the second semi-finals of the King’s Cup on Thursday. Trailing by a Jihad Ayoub own goal at half-time, Bassel Jrade levelled things up for the Cedars soon after the break, but Teerasil Dangda’s header five minutes from time stole the win for the hosts.
A similar late drama unfolded in India’s semi-final defeat as Aymen Hussein’s equalising spot-kick took the game into penalties, where Iraq struck all five to clinch their berth in the final.
Stimac thought his boys, who took the lead twice and defended valiantly, deserved more from the match. But the Blue Tigers have put that difficult loss in the past and are fully focussed on winning the bronze medal, as they did in 2019 in Stimac’s debut tournament.
“I was very happy with our boys’ efforts and performance against a much higher-ranked side like Iraq. We gave a good fight. We were in the lead twice. You could clearly see that Iraq had more quality in their team, but in the end, we deserved more out of the game. Even though we have fewer chances, we can still score and get the most out of the game,” said Stimac.
Lebanon coach Ilic also shared his thoughts on India’s strengths. “I think the Indian team is looking very strong. They are growing up. If we compare the past to the present, it’s completely different. They had a fantastic game against Iraq. For sure, they need to be respected hundred percent.
On the other hand, we will try to do our best. For us, it’s common pressure because we need to try to get a positive result in this game. We are prepared to do our best,” Ilic added.
While the Serbian spoke about pressure, Stimac revealed he didn’t want his players to take any and play their hearts out.
“We can expect an open game. I’m just asking my players to be creative on the pitch and enjoy and celebrate football when they come out on the pitch. I don’t want to put pressure on them at any time with regard to the result. It will be a joy for football, I hope,” shared the Indian coach.