Two teams played attritional, wayward football for 90 minutes and got the result that football rather deserved as India and Lebanon played out a goalless draw on Thursday. India had three very good chances to open the scoring: Anirudh Thapa side-footing a shot wide from six yards, Rahim Ali snatching at a one-on-one opportunity and Sunil Chhetri missing a header from three yards out.
India coach Igor Stimac had a surprise in store at the start, when he dropped Chhetri to the bench, ostensibly to give his ageing captain a rest after he started both of the last two games. Starting with Ashique Kuruniyan up top and the pace of Udanta Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte on either side, India looked to hit Lebanon on the counter. Not to much avail. Rahim Ali's introduction in the place of Kuruniyan moved the side further up the pitch, but poor finishing meant he couldn't have much of an impact on the game. Chhetri was brought on past the 80th minute but had little impact apart from that missed chance off a Thapa setpiece.
Lebanon, meanwhile, looked to play a more patient game leaning on Hassan Maatouk's creativity in the middle and Hassan Saad's enterprise and Zein Al Farran's pace down the wings. While they looked threatening on occasion, they couldn't create the clear-cut chances they needed.
Speaking after the match, Igor Stimac said, "[I am] very happy with the boys' performance. We knew we [would be] be tested a couple of times, and that's exactly what happened. When you play against better and [higher] quality opponents, it must happen. They have the quality to do so, but we defended well in such situations".
"I'm very happy, another clean sheet, let's take positives - [we] created enough chances to win with the big margin, and at the end just sorry for the boys that it didn't happen. Even Sunil had a clear chance at the end, so... next time. In three days time."
"We'll definitely go to win the tournament - that's why we are here. We knew today that the priority was to keep a clean sheet," he said.
"We tried to surprise our opponent today with a high press in the first 25 minutes - it didn't work - we missed couple of good chances there. Then the middle press was working as well but they didn't have options other than to go with the long ball and we handled that well. So apart from that, we were trying to come from the sides with crosses, [but they lacked] quality. Even if there was a good cross, we were not attacking the box with the proper timing... so, work needs to be done. There is still plenty to do, but I think we're going to win it in three days time, because you could see clearly that we look fresher, we have more energy, we can run better and we played with more hunger than them."
India will now play Lebanon in the final of the Intercontinental cup on Sunday, June 18.
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