The “tongue lashing” they got from head coach Igor Stimac at halftime was the wake-up call India needed to win the Intercontinental Cup, said national football team captain Sunil Chhetri.
India failed to break Lebanon’s defence in the first half before Chhetri’s 87th international goal and Lallianzuala Chhangte’s strike to help the host lift the title. “We got some tongue-lashing from the boss at half-time. We were nowhere close to where we were in the last game. It was the wake-up call that we needed,” said Chhetri.
“A lot of words were spoken, some of which I can’t repeat here. But the main thing is that we knew we had it in our tanks, and at the end of the day, we have no regrets. Of course, it’s easier now to say this at 2-0, but we are happy with the win.” Chhetri was impressed with India’s performance in the tournament and termed the victory “sweet”.
“We could not win the last time in the Hero Intercontinental Cup, but this win was sweet. It was not easy, but we were very happy, especially to keep the clean sheets,” he said.
Head coach Stimac admitted that he was not pleased with his team’s performance against Lebanon in the first 45 minutes.
“Every game is important, every win is important, especially clean sheets, so I am very happy. But I can tell you that I was not at all happy at half-time. We played well in the first 10 minutes, and then we disappeared,” the Croatian said.
“We should not have allowed them (Lebanon) to control the game for 20 minutes like that. It’s best I don’t mention what was said at half-time, but it worked. The reaction from the boys in the second half was brilliant. This is the India I like to see.” Stimac said plenty of work awaits India ahead of the AFC Asian Cup to be hosted by Qatar from January 12 to February 10 next year.
India is clubbed in a strong Group B alongside Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria.
“There’s plenty of work for us ahead of the AFC Asian Cup. We need to understand better positioning, the timing of runs, when to play on the ground, and when not,” the coach said.
“Lebanon had 7-8 good transitions. That cannot happen against Australia or Uzbekistan. It’s not important how we play today, it’s important how we play in January (in the Asian Cup).” India have played six matches so far in 2023 and kept clean sheets in all of them. And attacking winger Chhangte believes a strong defensive line is the key to India’s success in recent matches.
“It feels great to help the team win a trophy. The main reason we won, though, is that our defenders are just so good. Their solidity at the back gives us more freedom up front,” said Chhangte.
“We were up against a very good side tonight (Sunday), but we approached the second half with a different mentality, and that did the trick.” India centre-back Sandesh Jhingan agreed with Chhangte.
“If we play like we did in the second half, the sky is the limit. For every team, a clean sheet is a base upon which you build everything. There were still some lapses, and we could have done better, but we need to work on them, and let’s see where that takes us.”
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