After a hard fight but an unfortunate 1-1 draw against Kuwait in the final group game, India were up against Lebanon in the Semi-Finals of the SAFF Championship, for yet another big clash. For the third time in the last few weeks, the Blue Tigers were placed against the Cedars. Lebanon have been one of the toughest opponents in terms of records and rankings lately for the Blue Tigers.
The battle wasn’t going to be any easy and what made it harder was the mental build-up to the game and what was at stake for Lebanon, who suffered a downfall in FIFA rankings after a 2-0 defeat against India, their first-ever defeat against them since 1977. A charged-up and motivated Lebanon side almost as if seeking revenge were ready to make their way to the Finals of the SAFF Championships and the challenge was tough for the in-form Blue Tigers from minute one.
It was not just the build-up to the game but the Indian team had more issues to deal with including the absence of Igor Stimac on the bench for picking up a red card in the previous game along with the wall at the back – Sandesh Jhingan not being available due to suspension.
It was, as expected, a hard-fought match with Lebanon dominating the majority of the first half while India gradually held themselves together and came back into the game. Paced up and fierce, the battle didn’t end in 90 minutes and saw some quality saves by Gurpreet along with a mixed bag of chances for both sides. The match went onto extra time followed by Penalty Shootouts, where India got the better of Lebanon in a 4-2 thriller, the highlight being Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saving the Lebanese Captain’s attempt from the spot.
The Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru and the fans didn’t disappoint yet again and India are through to the finals of the SAFF Championship were they will face Kuwait, on the 4th of July, 2023. After the Semi-Final victory against Lebanon, let’s have a quick look at the 5 key takeaways from the match.
1. A resistant and rebellious Team in the Making
India faced the heat of a fierce Lebanon attack in today’s game and even after nervy moments and numerous attacks lashing down, this Indian Team managed to stay strong and drive back into the game. On many occasions, we’ve seen teams susceptible to failing under pressure, and with such immense attacks from Lebanon it could have been a similar story.
However, the Blue Tigers do not back down. We’ve seen this throughout the Intercontinental Cup and now in the SAFF Cup how this current Indian team never fears to go shoulder to shoulder even with the toughest of opponents. The body language has been very positive and the performances have shown an underlying confidence and belief in their own abilities.
The story was no different here and the Blue Tigers managed to recover and take things to Lebanon in the second half and eventually grind out a victory along with keeping a clean sheet and not looking shaky or scared even when facing the heat.
2. Goal Scoring Concern Continues
If not Sunil Chhetri then who? The question remains. Even after all the flair and glare, the day Sunil Chhetri fails to find the back of the net, finding an outlet to goal becomes a difficulty for India.
At the end of the day, goals win you matches, and once again there were no such clear threats at goal and the ones which came were miserably wasted by the Blue Tigers. It is not every day that one man rises to the rescue, even though somehow our Captain never fails to deliver. Today was an exception or can be said a good solid strategy by Lebanon to not let the skipper through on goal but the question persists as to who is possibly an outlet to score goals if not Sunil Chhetri.
It is not just about the future but in big matches and big stages, big teams would surely like to have more than 1 goal-scoring threat to keep the opponents thinking and keeping their own hopes alive, and in order to be right up there to live our big dreams, we need to make sure there are more weapons ready to score.
3. The 2 Aces – Anwar Ali and Akash Mishra
In the modern era technicality is spoken about a lot and the ability of the players to hold on to the ball and play positive meaningful passes instead of just getting rid of the ball when under pressure. This even though is not too much strict a criteria for defenders given that their key role is to defend and clear away danger, but is always prioritized in modern football and a major element to have in a team.
Two such rising stars in Indian Football are Anwar Ali and Akash Mishra. Solid in defence, and good on the ball, Anwar and Akash are the epitome of sparkling confidence on the pitch for the Blue Tigers. Anwar has been a pillar in defence ever since he made his debut for India while Akash Mishra even today showed what he brings in with himself as soon as he came on as a substitute.
Without a hint of doubt it can be said that these two are gems for India and have been extremely positive additions to the team in this journey under Igor Stimac and both of these “2 – Aces” will surely have key roles to play in the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
4. Revival of The Flash?
Off the bench, and into the attack, the Indian Flash – Udanta Singh, impressed with his performance in his short spell on the pitch tonight. Udanta has been at the end of a lot of criticism lately for his unimpressive performances at the club level in the last few years.
Contrary to all that today was very opposite and we saw glimpses of the all familiar Udanta Singh running down the flanks and delivering danger. From accurate first touches and threatening runs down the right-hand side, Udanta was a constant headache to the Lebanese defence since he stepped on the pitch.
As fans and keeping in mind the National Team first we will all hope that this wasn’t just a sudden spark but a lightning we waited for and that Udanta continues to perform well and even better for the National Team in the coming future, whenever called upon.
5. Clinical Penalty Shootout
Tie-breakers or Penalty shootouts are never as easy as it seems. From skills to nerves, it takes all to get the better of the opponents in a penalty shootout. A single miss can be costly and each save is crucial.
With Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad off the pitch, some would have wondered about penalty takers tonight but India had their plans set. Sunil Chhetri led by example and the young Anwar Ali and Mahesh Naorem Singh along with Udanta did not fail to follow. 4 in 4 successful penalties and with a save from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, it was nothing less than a clinical performance from the Blue Tigers from the Penalty spot.
Overall it was a battle of commitment and nerves and the Blue Tigers delivered when needed most, holding on to the very last minute and not giving up fighting as a unit to make their way to the final.
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