India play Syria in their last 2019 Hero Intercontinental Cup tie
India will cross swords with Syria on Tuesday at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad, in what is going to be their final showing at the 2019 Hero Intercontinental Cup. Igor Stimac’s Blue Tigers haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory while defending their crown in the tournament. They lost 4-2 in the opening fixture against Tajikistan, before providing no sort of competition to DPR Korea in the subsequent match, ending up on the wrong side of a 5-2 nailing. With DPR Korea's narrow win over Tajikistan on Monday, the defending champions stand eliminated.
The Indian football team came into the tournament on the back of a third-place finish at the 2019 King’s Cup – the first tournament in-charge for new head coach Stimac. The Croatian offered a drastically different approach to his predecessor, but repeatedly asserted that he needed time to bring about this change. Against Tajikistan and then DPR Korea, these opinions were laid bare for all to see, as the Blue Tigers conceded a massive nine goals to almost end their hopes of playing the final.
Nevertheless, Stimac has remained positive with an eye on something greater. As far as the philosophical change in concerned, there has been an evident possession-based style and more of the same will be on display in every match from here on. Lallianzuala Chhangte has been excellent in whatever minutes he’s received in both matches and thus, could be Stimac’s go to man on the left side.
Syria have a lot of technically gifted midfielders who like getting on the ball and occupying the space between the lines. Amarjit Singh Kiyam, who has now started both matches, and Rowllin Borges could continue in midfield with Sahal Abdul Samad just in front of them. The Kerala Blasters star didn’t start the last match but could be brought back in to try and have a go at the Syrian defence, which has shown signs of vulnerability, conceding four goals in two matches
Defensively though, the 51-year-old manager has the most to worry about. Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika are both not fit enough to start, leaving Stimac with Adil Khan, Subhasish Bose, Narender Gahlot and Rahul Bheke as the only available defensive options. Mistakes at the back have been the largest contributor to India’s downfall in the last two matches, thus adding further impetus to Stimac’s choice.
Up top, the Blue Tigers’ overdependence on Chhetri has been a feature of this tournament, but Stimac has stressed that he is aware of the fact and is looking for contributions from the midfield. Udanta Singh hasn’t been impressive with his play inside the box under Stimac. He will need to have a look at that to stand any chance of cementing a place in the starting lineup.
The Assyrians had a woeful 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign, where they collected just one point from three matches. Coach Fajr Ibrahim was appointed midway through the tournament, but his return to the helm of the country’s football for the fourth time hasn’t gone as he would have planned. The Qasioun Nosour have played seven times under the 55-year-old, winning just twice and losing against the likes of Iran and Iraq.
Ibrahim brought just three senior players with him to India, but despite that, saw his team thrash the Koreans 5-2 in their opening Hero Intercontinental Cup fixture. Skipper Firas Al Khatib was outstanding on the day, scoring once and assisting two further strikes. The 36-year-old needs just one more goal to become the all-time leading scorer for Syria.
In their subsequent matchup against Tajikistan, the Assyrians paid the price for a dull second half display to end up on the losing end. However, that fixture was just two days after their win over the Koreans, which meant that the energy levels wasn’t quite there.
Aside from Al Khatib, Stimac’s men will also be keeping an eye on young striker Shadi Al Hamwi, who scored twice on his debut against DPR Korea. Mohammad Al Marmour also hit a brace and is a powerful midfielder who can run the young Indian defence all night. Syria, under Ibrahim enjoy keeping possession and make use of their technically gifted central players.
Catch the match live on th Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV from 8pm.