India Will Face Another Test Against Lebanon.
SAFF CHAMPIONSHIPS: India will miss defender Jhingan and coach Stimac on the touchline.
One of the reasons the 2023 SAFF Championship welcomed two West Asian sides in Kuwait and Lebanon was to make the tournament more competitive. India, after all, had won eight of the past 13 editions, and the presence of a couple of evenly matched teams would certainly liven up proceedings. The India-Kuwait game on Tuesday fit the billing, and India nearly edged the contest before an unfortunate own goal denied it a famous win. On Saturday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, the hope is for another feisty encounter as the hosts will look to put one across Lebanon in the semifinals.
Recent history suggests that India has the edge, having beaten Lebanon in the Intercontinental Cup final a fortnight ago and drawn the other group stage game in Bhubaneswar. Form-wise, India can take heart from the performance against Kuwait where it was the better team for large chunks of the match. India pressed high up the pitch, attacked in droves and transitioned excellently from defence to offence. Sunil Chhetri up front, the wingers in Naorem Mahesh and Lallianzuala Chhangte, and the defenders in Akash Mishra and Anwar Ali were all excellent.
However, against Lebanon, Chhetri & Co. will have to do without Sandesh Jhingan in defence and head coach Igor Stimac on the touchline. The towering Jhingan, who played a pivotal role in the 1-1 draw against Kuwait, is suspended after picking up his second yellow card. Stimac is banned after his second red in as many matches. That Lebanon will be keen to avenge the Intercontinental Cup loss will add spice. The Aleksandar Ilic-coached outfit topped Group-B with three wins out of three and the Serbian's promise of "Total Football" Indicated that his wards will play to win.
"There are no secrets any more between the teams", declared Ilic on Friday. " We are really motivated and I am pushing my players psychologically to make them believe we can succeed. It will be very important that we can score the first goal. That will help us end the semifinal in a positive way". In the other semifinal, Bangladesh will take on Kuwait. For now, India will hope for a third-straight clean sheet against Lebanon. And they must do it without Jhingan. However, the blue tigers beat the Cedars in the Intercontinental cup final recently.
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