The Indian Men’s National team is on a fighting spree with three in a row. Two of them saw red cards for the head coach as the one against Kuwait would prove much more costly for Igor Stimac. In addition to a two-game ban, the Croatian will have to pay a 500 USD fine (approx. 41,000 INR). India vs Lebanon proves to be an intriguing encounter with this backdrop.
The SAFF Championship semifinal between India and Lebanon has much more at stake than just a final spot. The winner will not just advance to the final, but will also take the final Pot 2 spot for the upcoming World Cup qualification cycle. As per the latest FIFA rankings, India ranks 100 while Lebanon has dropped to 101. But the point difference of 0.98 is small enough to be swept by a Lebanon win.
After losing to India in the Intercontinental Cup final, Lebanon won all three group-stage games and are the only team in the tournament to do so. They were grouped with Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Maldives against whom they won 2-0, 4-1, and 1-0 respectively.
India’s long run of clean sheet broke when Anwar Ali’s tired clearance went into the back of Amrinder’s net against Kuwait on Tuesday. The unbeaten run is still intact.
Team News – India
Alongside Stimac, India will miss Sandesh Jhinghan owing to his yellow card count in the group stage. There are no reported injuries from the Indian camp. Mahesh Gawli will take to the sidelines.
India vs Lebanon – Head-to-head
Including the two clashes in June, the two teams have faced each other eight times. Where Lebanon holds a slight superiority with 3 wins. There have been as many draws between the two teams whereas the Blue Tigers have won on two occasions.
When they faced each pther at the Kalinga Stadium, they were doing so after fourteen years. That resulted in a draw. But the final between the same sides produced a historic result for the Blue Tigers. An all-round performance outclassed the West Asian side and defeated them for the first time since 1977. That was even before Sunil Chhetri was even born.
Probable Starting Line-ups
India XI: Amrinder Singh (GK), Nikhil Poojary, Rahul Bheke, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra, Jeakson Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Naorem Mahesh Singh, Sunil Chhetri (C)
Lebanon XI: Mehdi Khalil (GK), Hussein El Zein, Walid Shour, Maxime Aoun, Abdul Razzak Dakramanji, Hasan Srour, Hassan Kourani, Ali Al Haj, Mohamad Omar Sadek, Hassan Maatouk, Ali Markabawi
IFTWC’s Prediction for India vs Lebanon
Lebanese Football as a whole may be on a downward trajectory but the confidence they must have gathered from these handful of results against lower-ranked opponents could drive them to a better result against the depleted Blue Tigers. The absence of Jhinghan, who arguably is the best player in the country right now, puts Lebanon at an advantage.
In an even contest, India is without their best defender against an attack that must be breathing fresh air after a long slump. Mind you that between January 2022 and March 2023, Lebanon only scored a single goal. And after scoring three against Vanuatu, they went goalless for three games again. Seven goals in these three games is a welcome change for Aleksandar Ilic and his attack.
Gawli opined on the improvement of play from Lebanese players – citing weather as a significant factor. “They had issues with the weather in Bhubaneswar, but they’re playing better here. It will be a different match. They are a strong attacking side”, he said.
IFTWC expects an even game, maybe with India at a 55-45/60-40 advantage. If the attack clocks, at least two goals are guaranteed. But if the defence fails to hold, one can’t say.
We predict 2-1 for India vs Lebanon.
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