Around 12,000 fans witnessed India lift the Hero Intercontinental Cup at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneshwar in a historic manner. The win against Lebanon was the first since 1977. The 2-0 result extended the clean sheet run to six games – a team record equalled that was set in 1951-52.
India went with two changes – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu back in the goal as well as Sunil Chhetri for Udanta Singh. Whereas Lebanon made only one change – Jehad Ayoub for Mouhammed Ali-Dhaini. The game started with balls and tackles flying around. Ashique tripped on himself but the Indian camp claimed a penalty. The referee had none of it. Later on, he found Sahal with space in the penalty box who couldn’t play the ball at the feet of Sunil Chhetri.
Jhinghan’s precise ball sent Chhangte through who took it to his favored left and crossed it to Ashique at the edge of the box. His right-footed shot hit Sahal and went over the crossbar.
Right after the first-half cooling break, Anwar Ali lost possession and Lebanon had the chance to hit on the break. But India usually doesn’t have anything to worry about when Jhinghan is at his best.
India ended the half with 57% possession but Lebanon had more shots and shots on target. Seven compared to three and two compared to none, respectively.
Less than sixty seconds into the second half, Chhetri scored his goal number 87 to set fire to the Kalinga Stadium. A beautiful one-two between Chhangte and Nikhil Poojary followed by a stepover followed by a low cross with absolute preciseness. The India captain made no mistake in needling it through the keeper’s legs. As he usually does, Chhetri immediately pointed towards his assister, Chhangte this time.
He assisted, why would he not score? Since they took the lead, India looked adamant to score another. A nice pressing sequence saw the Lebanon defense play the ball straight to Chhetri who played it to substitute Mahesh Singh in the space. His left-footer was saved but the rebound only had to find Chhangte. Does he miss? No. Did he miss? Absolutely not! The 2-0 lead sent everyone in the home dugout into a jolly and relaxed mood. Sahal, who had an off-game, was greeted with a smile by Stimac – followed by probably giving him a briefing of some of the opportunities he missed to send his forwards through.
In injury time, Rahim Ali was sent through but again he couldn’t convert with his left foot. The repercussions weren’t as big as on Thursday as soon the men in blue soaked into victory celebrations.
“Keep shooting, keep creating,” was the half-time team talk. The goals came as a result of that. In the cooldown interview, Stimac made a bold claim – “This is the best India (has played in) 45 (minutes) in the last five decades.” It’s up to the analysts and historians to judge. But right now his side has set positive steps forward in the Asian Cup preparations. This group of players and coaches will fly to Bengaluru to face Pakistan in the SAFF Championship on June 21.
In other great news, India has virtually secured the 98th rank and, thus, that much-needed Pot 2 in the World Cup qualifications draw. The Chief Minister of Odisha ended the night with an announcement worth a crore.
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