From solid defence to sharp attack: Takeaways from India's Hero Intercontinental Cup campaign
The Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 witnessed an impressive triumph for the Indian football team as they reclaimed the coveted trophy by defeating Lebanon 2-0 in the final at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.
The Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 witnessed an impressive triumph for the Indian men's football team as they reclaimed the coveted trophy by defeating Lebanon 2-0 in the final at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.
The Blue Tigers demonstrated their increasing strength with a dominant performance throughout the tournament, further bolstering their preparations for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2023 in Qatar.
Here are the five key takeaways from the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023:
Tactical Mastery: Team India, under the guidance of their Croatian head coach Igor Stimac, showcased exceptional tactical prowess throughout the tournament. This was evident in their dominant performance against comparatively lower-ranked teams like Mongolia and Vanuatu during the group stage.
Despite a goalless draw against the higher-ranked Lebanon in the final group stage game and an initially ineffective performance in the opening half of the final against the same opponent, India made a remarkable comeback after the break, displaying remarkable resilience and strategic acumen to pull off an incredible victory. This win against Lebanon marked India's first victory over them in 46 years. The Blue Tigers’ ability to adapt to different playing styles and exploit the weaknesses of the opposition was instrumental in their success.
Chhangte once again proved his worth: Lallianzuala Chhangte is undoubtedly experiencing the prime of his career. Time and time again, he has showcased his value and contribution to the team. Just when it seemed like the final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup would be a tightly contested match, with both teams evenly poised and cancelling each other out in the scoreless first half, Chhangte emerged as the game-changer. He ignited the second half with a brilliant play, initiating a move that involved passing the ball to Nikhil Poojary, who cleverly backheeled it to Chhangte. The 26-year-old displayed nimble footwork and played a square pass to Sunil Chhetri, who made no mistake in putting India ahead.
Pitch side view of @lzchhangte7's goal & celebration that sealed the deal for @IndianFootball tonight 🙌☺️#INDLBN #HeroIntercontinentalCup #IndianFootball #BackTheBlue #BlueTigers pic.twitter.com/LbLukHtUQk— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 18, 2023
Twenty minutes later, the Mumbai City FC winger further extended India's lead when he capitalized on a rebound from a saved shot by Naorem Mahesh. The winger netted two goals and provided one assist in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. His other goal came in the 2-0 victory against Mongolia in the opening game of the tournament. Chhangte finished as the joint top scorer of the tournament, alongside Chhetri.
Defensive Solidity: Stimac maintained his rotation policy throughout the tournament, yet it had no impact on the team's defensive structure. Sandesh Jhingan, the only player to start in all four games, led the defence admirably, acting as a stalwart at the centre-back position. The 29-year-old, who celebrated his 50th international cap against Vanuatu, executed numerous blocks and tackles to rescue his team.
.@SandeshJhingan made an incredible block to keep #Lebanon at bay! 👊— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 18, 2023
Watch the Final of #HeroIntercontinentalCup 2023 LIVE only on @StarSportsIndia 2, #StarSports 2 HD, @DisneyPlusHS, and @OfficialJioTV! 📺#INDLBN #IndianFootball #BackTheBlue #BlueTigers | @IndianFootball pic.twitter.com/BZ9NHV7Wcm
Jhingan has been bestowed the best player of the tournament for his exceptional performance. India's defensive unit exhibited extraordinary resilience, achieving an impressive four clean sheets in as many games. Poojary, who returned to the national side after almost four years, also displayed solidity in the right-back position. The disciplined and well-organized defensive line of the Blue Tigers effectively thwarted opposition attacks, providing a sturdy foundation for India's triumph in the Hero Intercontinental Cup.
Naorem Mahesh Singh is going from strength to strength: Mahesh, who made his international debut against Myanmar in the Hero Tri-Nation tournament in Imphal, continued to impress for the Blue Tigers. The winger earned his first start against Vanuatu and also came on as a substitute in the other three games, showcasing his worth with his trademark crosses and daring runs. The East Bengal FC winger replaced Ashique Kuruniyan in the final against Lebanon at the hour mark and injected further energy into Team India's attack. Just five minutes after entering the game, the 24-year-old received a pass from the Indian keeper and unleashed a shot on goal. Although the Lebanon goalkeeper made a full-stretched dive to save the initial attempt, Chhangte capitalized on the rebound and extended the lead.
"I think this boy has a good future because he's a top notch player!" 🗣️@IndianFootball Captain @chetrisunil11 is all praise for @NaoremMahesh! 🙌#HeroIntercontinentalCup #IndianFootball #BlueTigers #BackTheBlue #SunilChhetri #NaoremMahesh pic.twitter.com/HciaahH7vZ— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 14, 2023
Mahesh's standout performance against Vanuatu saw him come close to assisting on a couple of goals, garnering immense praise from Chhetri for his remarkable growth.
Absence of a proper no. 9: Despite all the positivity that we witnessed in the Hero Intercontinental Cup, the absence of an out-and-out striker was clearly evident once again. Apart from Chhetri, other strikers failed to leave their mark in the national team's striking position.
Players like Manvir Singh and Sivasakthi Narayanan were already ruled out of the tournament due to injuries, while the injury to Ishan Pandita further exacerbated the crisis for the Blue Tigers. Currently nursing a hamstring injury, Pandita is set to miss out on the SAFF Championship in Bengaluru.
Rahim Ali, the only other striker available for the team besides Chhetri, was unable to capitalize on the opportunities despite receiving adequate game time in the tournament.