Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac rued his side’s missed opportunities as the Blue Tigers played out a goalless draw with Lebanon in their final group game of the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 at the Kalinga Stadium, in Bhubaneswar, on Thursday.

Both sides had already booked their place in the final ahead of Thursday’s game after Vanuatu recorded a narrow win against Mongolia in their last group game. In what turned out to be a feisty contest, India created more and better chances than Lebanon, but couldn’t breach the deadlock in the end. Stimac stated his side deserved to win the game and assured that his team would do their best to emerge triumphant in Sunday’s final.

“I would say it was a good game with lots of action. Both sides gave their best to create a good game of football. We knew that we are going to face a good opposition and we knew that they were going to test our abilities defending which happened a couple of times but we defended well,” Stimac stated in the post-match press conference.

“So overall, congratulations to my boys. They stuck to the plan and created enough chances to win the game, more than enough. I'm sorry for them because they didn't score with very clear opportunities. We had much better chances than Lebanon, that was clear. We deserved to win this game. It didn’t happen, but we are going to make sure we win it in three days' time.”

India are yet to concede in the ongoing Hero Intercontinental Cup edition, having registered clean sheets in all of their group games. This was the sixth straight clean sheet for the Blue Tigers, a run beginning from their thumping 4-0 win over Hong Kong in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in June 2022. Stimac was pleased with his side’s consistency in defence and encouraged them to keep building on it.

“Even if you play lower-ranked teams, you are going to concede goals. You can see how far we have gone with this discipline in defending. We are not allowing our opponents to create chances, nevermind who they are. Lebanon had one clear chance. Mongolia and Vanuatu didn't even come close to the goal. That is what we are building. That is the base and it’s fundamental, keeping clean sheets,” Stimac explained.

Against Lebanon, Stimac made plenty of changes to his side’s from their victory over Vanuatu, handing a rest to Sunil Chhetri, who netted the match-winner against the Oceania side. Ashique Kuruniyan was handed his first start and was chosen to play upfront, with Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Lallianzuala Chhangte also making their way back into the starting eleven.

India could have put the game to bed against Lebanon with two big chances coming their way during the dying stages, but substitutes Rahim Ali and Sunil Chhetri both missed the target. Stimac spoke about the strength in depth within his squad and how his team is making progress.

“I am trying to help them (players) rise up in their game. Trying to help them in what to do and give them a clear idea of where they need to be when the ball is in different places and to tell them about their position and responsibility in each second of the game on the pitch. As far as I am concerned, India looks a very organised side. Very disciplined, very compact and (a team with a) clear idea of what needs to be done and with many players to use. That’s our richness,” Stimac signed off.