Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac was delighted with the character shown by his team as they grinded out a 1-0 victory against Vanuatu in their second game of the Hero Intercontinental Cup at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar on Monday. A late Sunil Chhetri goal ensured a win for the hosts, ensuring their passage to the final as the Blue Tigers made it two wins in a row in the ongoing edition of the Hero Intercontinental Cup.

This was the seventh straight win for India on home soil but it was not easy by any means. They were dominant against Vanuatu but weren’t as effective in the final third. Stimac made a host of changes around the hour-mark, bringing in the likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sahal Abdul Samad, Anirudh Thapa and Jeakson Singh. The changes made a big difference as India displayed more urgency and better attacking rhythm.

With the hosts finding it tough to breach the deadlock, Chhetri popped up with a winner during the 80th minute, volleying home a cross from Subhasish Bose into the roof of the net. Reflecting on the result, Stimac praised his players for their perseverance despite the problems they faced in the attacking third.

“Many things were not as I wanted them to be. And I will work on that. But many things were also beautiful and we could enjoy them. What I am happy about is the consistency and (the urge) to keep trying. Not losing faith because when you don't open the scoring in games like these.. it becomes more difficult. Minutes pass by quickly when you are not scoring,” he said in the post-match press conference.

“We kept the faith. We didn’t lose clarity about what we needed to do, we kept doing that and the goal came. The team showed good character,” he added.

Stimac made nine changes to his playing eleven from the 2-0 win against Mongolia in their opening match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup, with only Sandesh Jhingan and Sunil Chhetri keeping their place. Meanwhile, new East Bengal FC signing Nandhakumar Sekar was handed his senior team debut. Stimac highlighted the importance of rotating his players to keep them fresh for a busy schedule ahead.

“I cannot look at this like one game. I need to look at the wider picture, I have nine games in 25 days. If I start the first two games with the same eleven players, how far can we go? After the third game we are gone (physically). Those eleven who didn’t play lose their confidence and interest in competing. Those eleven (players) who played all games are dead and they cannot give you anything in such conditions. So you need to look at the wider picture and play with different teams,” he explained.

India will take on Lebanon in their final group game of the Hero Intercontinental Cup on Thursday before playing the final three days later. Lebanon, placed second in the standings, need to secure a point or more against India to guarantee their place in the final.

With Vanuatu already out of the competition, Mongolia need to beat the Oceania side by a big margin in their final game and hope Lebanon drop points against India to stand a chance of making it to the final.

But when asked if his team hold a psychological edge over Lebanon, having already qualified for the final, Stimac said: “We are playing at home and we go out in every game trying to win it. We are not looking at what they have done in the previous games. We know it is going to be difficult because some of their players have enormous quality. But they do have weaknesses and we could see that also. But it was much more difficult to play two games at 4pm in such heat and humidity. It is going to be an interesting game.”