The third edition of the Hero Intercontinental Cup was inaugurated amid much enthusiasm and anticipation at the Kalinga Stadium in Odisha. The second match of the day was between the host nation India and newcomers Mongolia. It marked the beginning of Team India’s long season before the Asian Cup, while for Mongolia it presented them an opportunity to test their mettle against a much more skilled international team.
The match was important as it served as a gateway for Igor Stimac’s squad to see where they fare against international opponents ahead of their campaign against Asian teams in the 2023-2024 season. Team India has a long way to go and many such matches will help them prepare before they enter the international colosseum. The opening match had much to be revealed about the Indian squad. The upcoming matches will give a deeper understanding of the Indian team, especially in the match against Lebanon.
The key takeaways of the match between India and Mongolia are as follows.
1. Quick Domination by India
India dominated the match at lightning pace as a partnership between Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa brought in their first goal within 2 minutes of kick-off. A well-executed pass by Anirudh was directed toward the back of the net by Sahal as he did not let this opportunity go to waste.
The second goal too came similarly almost 10 minutes after the first goal. Thapa shot the ball from the corner, Jhingan intercepted it but his attempt was blocked. Chhangte took this opportunity, shooting from point blank he made sure the ball found its mark.
India continued in a similar fashion for the most part, with no threat to their position having created an insurmountable lead for a fledgling team like Mongolia. However, the initial success was like a flash in the pan for the same finesse was not seen, as India, although did not concede any goals, struggled to score for the rest of the match.
2. Poor finishing after the initial goals
Team India scored two stunningly quick goals in the first 15 minutes but unfortunately could not add to the scoreboard again. After the initial shock, Mongolia focused on their defence but there were plenty of missed opportunities. One such opportunity came when Sahal made an uncannily accurate back pass to Udanta Singh who unfortunately could not keep the shot on target as the ball went soaring past the keeper’s head.
The second half as well as the minutes preceding half time were riddled with such missed opportunities as the players could not place the ball within the net. This lack of finishing is of grave concern to the team who is looking to face much more skilled and talented squads in the pan-Asia championships. Indian strikers and forwards need to up their accuracy.
3. A young and talented squad
The spotlight of the match between India and Mongolia fell on the younger players who made a great display of their youthful vigour and skill in the match. Players such as Sahal Samad, Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Anirudh Thapa made great contributions to the proceedings of the match and were key to India’s victory. The squad chosen by Igor Stimac was young and they secured a victory but there were also missed opportunities.
The youthful team is a mirror for India’s future in football. The talented young squad is sure to leave a mark on the minds of viewers all over. The young talent is honed greatly by the ever-increasing level and challenge of the ISL and they have all made a name for themselves amidst the team of experienced and skilled players.
4. Chhangte’s champion form continues unchanged
The young winger from Mizoram continues his stellar performance. Earlier this year he was the highest Indian goalscorer in the ISL and played no small part in Mumbai City FC’s victory in the ISL. His performance in the match against Mongolia bears testament to the skill and hard work he put in during the 22-23 season as part of his club.
He transferred from Chennaiyin FC where he showed promise but it was under Des Buckingham that he grew into the ruthless and deadly striker he has become. While there is still room for growth there is no denying he is currently one of the best strikers playing in India. He is sure to continue to show a stellar performance on the pitch in the 23-24 season and grow in leaps and bounds as a player.
5. Sure-footed Sahal strikes true
While Sahal plays as a wide player for Kerala Blasters, his real talent and ability shine when he takes on the role of an attacking midfielder. As seen from his performance in this match, he can create chances with seemingly little effort and is also an able scorer in his own right.
Throughout his career, he has played for Kerala Blasters and has been molded and shaped by his training there into becoming the player he is today. Sahal is sure to be an indispensable team member due to his skill and talent and is sure to become a staple of Indian football.
India’s squad is young and has great potential but it lacks the finishing that it needs to face off against better teams. The upcoming matches before the big championship must be played well and used as a learning experience for the players to improve.
The Intercontinental Cup promises to be as exciting as the matches on the opening day. The next matchday is on Monday 12, June. Mongolia faces Lebanon while our men in Blue will face off against Vanuatu.
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