Intercontinental Cup 2023: India Face Vanuatu With An Eye On Final
On a high after their convincing win over Mongolia, India will look to seal a final berth when they face Vanuatu in the four-nation Intercontinental Cup football tournament in Bhubaneswar on Monday.
On a high after their convincing win over Mongolia, India will look to seal a final berth when they face Vanuatu in the four-nation Intercontinental Cup football tournament in Bhubaneswar on Monday. The hosts blanked Mongolia 2-0 in their tournament opener on Friday, while Vanuatu went down 1-3 to Lebanon. So, as things stand, the Blue Tigers will seal their final berth if they win against the team from Oceania. Lebanon are the other team that is in the hunt for a final berth as they face Mongolia in the earlier kick-off at the Kalinga Stadium.
Against Mongolia, India sealed victory in the opening quarter itself, with quick-fire goals from Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte to bag their sixth straight win on home soil.
"I was most impressed with the players' intention of adding to the game we've been practising during the training sessions," India head coach Igor Stimac said.
The visiting teams have found it tough to deal with Bhubaneswar's hot and humid conditions.
"The weather does make a lot of impact on the pitch, but we need to be honest that we have an advantage in that sense because we've already trained here for more than three weeks," Stimac said.
"With what we saw in the Vanuatu-Lebanon match, a few players went off injured in the first half, so it's clear that it will be difficult for them to cope in such conditions," added the Croatian.
Vanuatu mostly have local players in their squad except for two forwards -- Azariah Soromon and Alex Saniel -- who play for Suva FC (Fiji) and captain Brian Kaltack, who turns out for Central Coast Mariners in A-League.
Part of the Melanesian subregion of Oceania, Vanuatu is an island nation with a population of just over three lakhs. Football is the most popular sport in the country and their best finish in the OFC Nations Cup has been fourth on three occasions.
In June last year, Vanuatu travelled to Qatar for their World Cup Qualifiers as the pandemic regulations didn't permit OFC to host matches in Oceania.
Unfortunately for the Pacific islanders, the trip proved futile as a COVID-19 outbreak in their squad meant that they had to withdraw before their first game.
Vanuatu took part in a tri-nation friendly tournament in March this year, beating Fiji 2-1 before losing 0-2 to Solomon Islands to finish second.
While Vanuatu have played more international matches than Mongolia, the vast majority have come against Pacific nations.
While the senior men's team is set to face Vanuatu for the first time, the India U-18 side has previously toured Vanuatu in 2019, beating the hosts 1-0 en route to winning the OFC Youth Development Tournament in Port Vila.
From the current Blue Tigers squad, left-back Akash Mishra was the only one who travelled to the Southern Pacific nation with that batch.
Sharing his thoughts on the possible challenge posed by the 164-ranked Vanuatu side, Stimac said, "We took everything (about Vanuatu) from the game they played against Lebanon. It's obvious that they are a physical side. They have their strengths and weaknesses, so we need to get ready for such a game." In the first match of the Intercontinental Cup, Vanuatu conceded all their three goals against Lebanon from dead-ball situations -- two from corners and a penalty.
The Melanesians scored from a training ground free-kick routine.
Similarly, India's second goal against Mongolia was a result of Anirudh Thapa's pin-point delivery from the corner.
As such, set pieces could be of real importance for Stimac's men on Monday.
Despite the defeat against Lebanon, Vanuatu head coach Etienne Mermer was proud of his side and had encouraging words to say.
"We knew it was going to be difficult against a tough side like Lebanon, but it was a good game. Being here is a great experience for the Vanuatu team. We've never played teams like India, Lebanon and Mongolia before. It's always challenging to play in Asia," he said.
"It's an outstanding stadium here. It's a new experience for the boys to play on such pitches. We don't have facilities like these back in Vanuatu. We're really enjoying here and are looking forward to facing India on Monday," Mermer added.
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