India defeats Lebanon 2-0 in the final to claim the 2023 Intercontinental Cup
The 2023 Intercontinental Cup saw the rise of India over the likes of Lebanon in the final. With the help of heroic goals from Lallianzuala Chhangte and Sunil Chettri, Igor Stimac’s Blue Tigers managed to get the much-needed momentum ahead of the SAFF Championship and the AFC Asian Cup.
Stimac chose to give Gurpreet Singh Sandhu a chance in the net as Nikhil Poojary, Anwar Ali, Sandesh Jhingan, and Akash Mishra were given the duty to defend. Consequently, Jeakson Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Lallianzuala Chhangte were chosen by the head coach to add a valiant spark to the midfield. Ashique Kuruniyan and skipper Sunil Chettri led the line for the hosts.
On the other hand, Aleksandar Ilic outright decided to go with almost a similar team with only one change as defensive midfielder Jihad Ayoub was replaced by Mouhammed-Ali Dhaini for the final.
After the national anthems, the match got underway with Lebanon’s attack but Sandesh Jhingan was too strong for the offense created by the visitors. Building a counterattack, India made it evident in just the 2nd minute that they’ll be playing possession-based football. The Blue Tigers were pushing in the Lebanese box as a harsh challenge by Zein Abidine Farran in the 6th minute earned the shouts of a penalty.
Nevertheless, the referee didn’t find the tackle convincing enough and pointed for a goal kick instantly and the decision left Igor Stimac unhappy. However, all the confusion was later cleared after the replay. After India’s sheer dominance in the initial 10 minutes, Lebanon finally managed to develop a cross in the 12th minute, which eventually turned out to be a corner.
In the 16th minute, Sunil Chettri was in a prime spot to break the deadlock but a heroic save from Ali Sabeh didn’t let the Blue Tigers take the lead. Consequently, the young and zestful Indian midfield was working extremely well just like they did in the last match against the same opponent. In the 23rd minute, Nader Matar saw the first booking of the match following his foul on winger Ashique Kuruniyan.
Three minutes were added as the injury minutes in the first half as Samad got to take a free-kick from a dangerous area. However, it didn’t end up going wide. The first half was extremely positive for the Indian team, however, they failed to break the deadlock despite getting some decent chances.
After the break, the Blue Tigers arrived on the ground with a different mentality. In the 46th minute, Nikhil Poojary skillfully slipped the ball toward Chhangte following a nutmeg, as Chettri was waiting to smash the ball in the net leaving Ali Sabeh bamboozled. India’s goal added hastily to the visitor’s playing style as they were desperate to find an equalizer and started making attacking changes.
To counter the effect, Jeakson and Ashique were also subbed out as Rohith Kumar and Naorem Mahesh Singh in the 60th minute. Thus, all the efforts paid off in the 66th minute when Chhangte smashed the ball in the middle of the net after Sabeh saved Mahesh’s strike from a very close distance.
As the match completed the 70-minute mark, the heat was visibly showing its effects on the players. In the 73rd minute, Stimac made another attacking change as Rahim Ali was called in in the place of Sahal Abdul Samad. A couple of minutes later, a decent lethal-looking attack from the visitors was called offside.
From keeping the ball on the right flank to assisting Sandesh Jhingan in defense, Poojary was giving an attacking as well as a defensive masterclass. Consequently, as the match entered the last 10 minutes, both sides started looking exhausted.
A couple more attempts were made by Lebanon skipper Maatouk before the four minutes of injury time were added. As the clock completed 90 minutes, Lallianzuala Chhangte was named the Hero of the Match for his impressive goal and incredible assist in the final.
Four minutes were added at the end of the second half as Subhasish and Nandhakumar were substituted in place of Chhangte and Chhetri. The Indian skipper looked in visible pain after getting subbed as he tied an ice pack on his leg.
Mahesh also looked promising in the match as he attempted India’s last chance of scoring. Thus, the final whistle blew when the visitors played a shot wide over India’s goal. Therefore, the Indian crowd was all smiles as the Blue Tigers recorded an excellent win in the Intercontinental Cup final.