The Indian football team will be keen to extend their good form this year when they face Iraq in the first semi-final of the 49th King’s Cup at the 700th Anniversary Stadium, Chiang Mai, Thailand on Thursday.

India have participated in three competitions this year and won all of them - the Tri-Nation International Friendly Football tournament, the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship. In 11 games across these three tournaments, India were unbeaten and came out victorious on seven occasions. This run of form also saw India break into the top 100 of the FIFA Rankings for the first time in five years. 

However, the Blue Tigers will face a stiff challenge against Iraq in Thailand, who are currently the highest-ranked team in the King’s Cup. Iraq is ranked 29 places above 99th-ranked India. The winner of the semi-final will face the winners of the second semi-final, where hosts Thailand take on Lebanon. 

“I hope that we're going to give everything on the pitch to do something good against a strong side like Iraq, who are Arabian Gulf Cup champions. After beating Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, they are one of the clear favourites in the upcoming (AFC) Asian Cup. So it's going to be very difficult for us, but I hope our boys will enjoy the game," Stimac said in the pre-match press conference.

India and Iraq have met on six occasions in the past and the Blue Tigers have never beaten the Gulf nation. Iraq have won five of these games with one game ending in a draw. The two sides previously faced each other in 2010, where Iraq won 2-0.

India will be without the services of captain and talisman Sunil Chhetri, but will hope that players like Lallianzuala Chhangte can step up in his absence. Chhangte has been a key attacker for Stimac’s side and has tallied three goals and an assist in 11 games this year for the national team. He urged India to build on their success and implement the plans laid out by Stimac against Iraq.

"The team atmosphere right now is very well. We just had beautiful success over the last few months, and I hope we continue that momentum. But I think this will be the real test because we are playing away from home and playing against one of the best countries in Asia,” the Mumbai City FC winger said in the pre-match press conference.

"The coach has created a great environment inside the team on and off the pitch. It's important to put what we learn in training into the match. We are not just here to participate but to win. We are approaching this tournament seriously. Our first match against Iraq is going to be very difficult. I hope we can come up with a positive result. We are ready for the challenge," he added.

India's match against Iraq will kick-off at 4pm IST and will be broadcast live on Eurosport and streamed live on FIFA Plus TV.