As the Indian Football team headed into the dressing room at halftime in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 final against Lebanon, they were left quite unsatisfied with the performance that they had put out.
Their opponents from the Mediterranean, in fact, had threatened to score on a few occasions, something that was very much a part of the half-time pep talk. The second half turned out to be a completely different story, with captain Sunil Chhetri and winger Lallianzuala Chhangte scoring the two goals that led to India lifting the Hero Intercontinental Cup.
India head coach Igor Stimac said after the game, “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.
“We should not allow them 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,” said Stimac.
India captain Sunil Chhetri also spoke about the wake-up call that the players needed to start playing the way they needed to play.
“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.”
As the Blue Tigers celebrated the win, head coach Stimac took a look at the work that remains ahead of the AFC Asian Cup, where India has been clubbed in 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, timing of runs when to play on the ground, and when not,” said Stimac. “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 has played six matches so far in 2023 and kept clean sheets in all of them. Attacking winger Lallianzuala Chhangte believes that a strong defensive line is 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, who was named the Hero of the Match. “We were up against a very good side tonight, but we approached the second half with a different mentality, and that did the trick.”
India centre-back and Hero of the Tournament Sandesh Jhingan believes that clean sheets are the foundation on which a team builds its confidence.
“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,” said Jhingan.
While certain areas remain to be worked on for the Blue Tigers, captain Chhetri summed it up perfectly – winning on home soil is 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,” said Chhetri.