Heartbroken but head held high after its penalty shootout loss to Iraq in the semifinals, India would look to continue its recent domination against Lebanon when it faces off in the third-place match of Kings Cup here on Sunday.
India was just 10 minutes away from recording its maiden win over higher-ranked Iraq but the West Asian country equalised (2-2) though a debatable penalty and then went on to win the semifinal match 5-4 on shootout.
Head coach Igor Stimac had lashed out at the referee for “robbing” India of a victory. Captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was also critical of the 80th minute penalty awarded to Iraq after its striker Ghadhban was squeezed by two Indian defenders inside the box during a high-ball tussle.
India will, however, gain a lot of confidence from the feisty fight against 70th ranked Iraq and the world number 99 Stimac’s side will hope to sign off the tournament with a win and end at third place.
India and Lebanon has played against each other three times this year and Stimac’s side has won twice -- though one was via penalty shootout in the SAFF Cup semifinal.
In the Intercontinental Cup in June, India had beaten Lebanon 2-0 in the final after playing out a 0-0 draw in the league stage.
It will, however, not be an easy outing for India against Lebabon, which lost to host Thailand 1-2 in the other semifinal on Thursday, but Stimac’s boys will fancy their chances considering their recent success.
There is nothing to separate the two teams in terms of FIFA rankings as India is ranked 99th while Lebanon is at 100.
Despite the absence of inspirational captain and striker Sunil Chhetri, the Indians did a commendable job upfront against Iraq. India’s first goal scored by Mahesh Naorem, after a brilliant pass by Sahal Abdul Samad, was a class act.
India was on the defensive in the second part of the first half but it held on to its own in the next 45 minutes against the Iraqis who were Asian Cup champions in 2017.
Stimac had said after the Iraq match through social media that a time will come when “even referees will not be able to stop my boys winning such games”.
Sandhu, on his part, urged his team-mates to build on the performance against Iraq.
“It’s a hard result to digest, we could’ve won the game. The second penalty was questionable. But we did much better than what people would have thought.
“We just need to believe in ourselves, a bit more patient and positive. We also need to make sure we don’t give away opportunities to opponents even if it looks like it’s something out of our control.” India had already claimed two third-place finishes in the tournament, including the most recent one in 2019.
Host Thailand will face Iraq in the summit clash.
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