BHUBANESWAR, JUNE 11, 2023
While visiting teams for the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 have found it tough to deal with Bhubaneswar’s hot and humid conditions, India head coach Igor Stimac claimed that it would give his side the upper hand in the tournament.
“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. 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,” said the Croatian.
Looking to strengthen their claim for a spot in the final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup, the India Senior Men’s Team will take on Vanuatu on Monday at the Kalinga Stadium here.
The hosts saw off 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 confirm their place in the final on Monday itself should they win and Mongolia fail to win against Lebanon in the earlier kick-off.
Stimac didn’t have many complaints from his boys after the smooth victory over the East Asians but also admitted that there should’ve been more goals. India did all the damage in the opening quarter of an hour 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,” said Stimac.
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.”
The first match day of the Hero Intercontinental Cup was a story of set pieces. All three goals Vanuatu conceded against Lebanon were from dead-ball situations – two from corners and a penalty – while the Melanesians themselves also 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.
The Vanuatu coach also shared insights on his squad. He said, “We mostly have local players in our squad except for two forwards (Azariah Soromon and Alex Saniel) who play for Suva FC (Fiji) and captain Brian Kaltack, who plays in the A-League for Central Coast Mariners. The boys are giving their everything and doing whatever we ask from them.”