India vs Iraq: Preview and Prediction
The Indian football team is set to return to action as they are due to meet Iraq in the semi-final of the 49th King’s Cup 2023. The fixture will take place at the 700th Anniversary Stadium in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Thursday.
The hosts, Thailand will lock horns with Lebanon in the other semi-final later in the day. The draw of the tournament took place on August 16, and the highest-ranked side in Iraq (70th), was kept in the separate match-ups with Thailand who are the hosts with a FIFA ranking of 113th.
The winner of the two semifinal games will meet in the final on September 10, while a third-place playoff will also take place between the losing sides.
India has never won the King’s Cup, the Blue Tigers do have two bronze medals to their name, the last one in 2019, and in 1977 before that. The last time India met Iraq was in a friendly in 2010 when the Asian giants prevailed 2-0.
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The tournament will also help Igor Stimac’s men prepare for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup next year in January wherein they will lock horns with Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria as well as the Asian Games in China.
Captain, leader, and legend Sunil Chhetri has been left out of India’s squad given he’s just welcomed his first child and thus the Blue Tigers will have their task cut out in the absence of their talismanic striker.
The year 2023 has been very promising so far for Stimac’s men as they won the Intercontinental Cup as well as the SAFF Championship earlier in June. India defeated Mongolia, and Vanuatu, followed by a draw against Lebanon in the Intercontinental group stage before ousting the Lebanese side in the final.
The Indian team then thrashed neighbours Pakistan 4-0 in the SAFF Championship group stage before beating Nepal 2-0. They were held to a 1-1 draw with Kuwait before Stimac’s men dumped Lebanon in the semis 4-2 on penalties. In the final, the Blue Tigers prevailed 5-4 on penalties.
Recently, Indian coach Stimac has been issued a show cause notice by AIFF owing to his strong comments in the media amidst the ongoing tussle against ISL clubs unwilling to release their players for the preparation camp ahead of the Asian Cup.
On the other hand, Iraq, the highest-ranked team in the tournament have already dished out plenty of impressive performances in 2023 and will be the favourites for the King’s Cup title.
The Lions of Mesopotamia have played seven matches this year, winning four of their five games in the Arabian Gulf Cup. Coached by Jesus Casas, the Asian giants defeated Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen before ousting the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts 3-2 in a thrilling final.
They also played two friendlies against Russia and Colombia suffering 2-0 to the Russian side before tasting a narrow 0-1 loss to the Columbians.
In total, India and Iraq have met each other six times across different competitions to date, and the Blue Tigers have only managed just one draw which came back in March 1995. The Lions of Mesopotamia have claimed five wins, including the most recent one back in 2010.
Stimac will have the headache of replacing Chhetri’s goals and two key players who were previously included in the 23-man travelling party will be missing. Amrinder Singh and Subhasish Bose have not travelled to Thailand for the King’s Cup and only a squad of 21 players landed in the host nation.
No replacements have been named for the pair, even though Bose was a key figure in Mohun Bagan Super Giant’s winning run during the Durand Cup 2023. Manvir Singh and Rahim Ali are likely to be the two options to lead the line in Chhetri’s absence, given Rahul KP mostly plays as a wide forward.
On the other hand, coach Casas will have a strong squad featuring key players such as the talismanic striker Aymen Hussein who will lead the line and Ibrahim Bayesh who will be the creative fulcrum of the side. Zidane Iqbal progressed through the ranks at Manchester United and he is likely to keep the Indian players on their toes.
Predicted Starting XIs
India (4-2-3-1): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Asish Rai, Anwar Ali, Sandesh Jhingan, Akash Mishra; Jeakson Singh, Anirudh Thapa; Ashique Kuruniyan, Sahal Abdul Samad, Lallianzuala Chhangte; Manvir Singh.
Iraq (3-4-1-2): Fahad Talib; Ahmed Yahia, Frans Putros, Ali Adnan; Bashar Rasan, Amir Al Amari, Ibrahim Bayesh, Hussain Ali; Zidane Iqbal; Ali Al Alhamadi, Aymen Hussein.
Iraq being the highest-ranked side in the tournament will undoubtedly start as favorites. The Blue Tigers have never trumped the Lions of Mesopotamia and without their talismanic forward Chhetri, Stimac and Co. will have their task cut out.
The Indian team has taken some major strides since these two sides last met, but Casas’ men will certainly fancy their chances of reaching the final.