Intercontinental Cup: India aims for glory in final against Kenya

The last time the two sides faced each other, India coasted to a comfortable 3-0 win and skipper Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to mark his 100th game for the national side. 

India will be banking on Sunil Chhetri to repeat his feat against Kenya in the final.   -  PTI

Backed by a sold-out stadium and the vociferous Blue Pilgrims, India will be eager to make the most of its home advantage when it takes on Kenya in Sunday's Intercontinental Cup final at the Mumbai Football Arena. 

The last time the two sides faced each other, India coasted to a comfortable 3-0 win and skipper Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to mark his 100th game for the national side. 

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India coach Stephen Constantine, however, didn't feel that the group stage win would have any bearing on Sunday's final.

“What we did in the round-robin stage is done and dusted. We cannot take anything for granted in the final. Kenya showed yesterday (against Chinese Taipei) what they are capable of, especially from set plays. We respect them but we will try to win the game,” he said. 

The 3-0 group stage win against Kenya came on a rainy Monday evening, with parts of the pitch completely submerged in the water, making it impossible for players to play any ground passes. With Mumbai receiving heavy rain on Saturday, and forecasts predicting more rain for Sunday, it looks like the two sides will be in for another slippery encounter.

When asked if the rains would have an impact on his starting XI, Constantine cheekily replied, "The players who can swim will get a chance!"  

“There's a point when it becomes dangerous to the players. I hope the sun comes out like yesterday and the pitch dries up. We'll have to adapt and play according to the conditions,” he added.

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Loss to New Zealand no deterrent

When quizzed about India's defensive weakness in dealing with aerial balls and set-pieces, which was visible when the second string Indian side played against New Zealand on Thursday, the Englishman said, “We will be at full strength for the final. We have our two central defenders, Anas (Edathodika) and Sandesh (Jhingan), who have been outstanding so far and that will help.”  

Constantine also went on to add that the loss to New Zealand, which ended the team's unbeaten streak this year, hardly mattered. “It didn't make a difference whether we won or lost in the last game. That’s why I said if I needed a point I would’ve played a completely different team. I don't care about streaks, I care about the end product,” he said. 

Kenyan camp glad to face India in final

Kenya coach Sebastian Migne said he was actually looking forward to playing the home side in the final. “I prefer to play the final against India because the stadium will be full. It will be a fantastic experience for my players,” he said after his team's 4-0 win over Chinese Taipei on Friday.  However, the Frenchman hoped the refereeing would be better in the summit clash.

“The only thing we want is a good referee. You saw the match against India. We were in the game until the score was 0-0. The referee killed us! Everybody saw it, that wasn't a penalty. Maybe a foul outside the box, but not a penalty. India has a strong team and a really good atmosphere and they don't need it (referee support).”

“I felt like we lost to 12 players, and the 12th player wasn’t the fan, it was the referee. I'm not looking for revenge against Indian player because it's not their fault,” he added.  Veteran defender, Jockins Atudo, who scored the match-winning brace on Friday, said the Kenyans would come out all guns blazing in the final.

“We lost against India the last time because of lack of experience and communication.  This time around, I think it's going to be a better game.”  The Harambee Stars will go all out for a win to end the tournament with a bang, while victory for the Blue Tigers would be a perfect launchpad for the Asian Games preparations, and more importantly, the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.