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India Looks to Seal Final Berth in Intercontinental Cup Football Tournament Against Vanuatu

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India is set to face off against Vanuatu in the four-nation Intercontinental Cup football tournament on Monday, with the hosts looking to secure their place in the final. After a convincing 2-0 win over Mongolia in their tournament opener, the Blue Tigers are on a high and will seal their final berth if they can defeat the team from Oceania. Lebanon is the other team in the hunt for a final spot, as they face Mongolia in the earlier kick-off.

India’s victory over Mongolia was secured in the opening quarter, with Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte scoring quick-fire goals. India head coach Igor Stimac was impressed with his team’s intention of adding to the game they’ve been practicing during training sessions. The visiting teams have found it tough to deal with Bhubaneswar’s hot and humid conditions, but India has an advantage as they’ve already trained there for more than three weeks.

Vanuatu, an island nation with a population of just over three lakhs, mostly has local players in their squad, except for two forwards and captain Brian Kaltack. Football is the most popular sport in the country, and their best finish in the OFC Nations Cup has been fourth on three occasions. In June last year, Vanuatu traveled to Qatar for their World Cup Qualifiers, but a COVID-19 outbreak in their squad meant that they had to withdraw before their first game.

While Vanuatu has played more international matches than Mongolia, the vast majority have come against Pacific nations. The India U-18 side has previously toured Vanuatu in 2019, beating the hosts 1-0 en route to winning the OFC Youth Development Tournament in Port Vila. From the current Blue Tigers squad, left-back Akash Mishra was the only one who traveled to the Southern Pacific nation with that batch.

Stimac acknowledged that Vanuatu is a physical side with strengths and weaknesses, and set pieces could be of real importance for his team on Monday. In the first match of the Intercontinental Cup, Vanuatu conceded all their three goals against Lebanon from dead-ball situations, while India’s second goal against Mongolia was a result of Anirudh Thapa’s pin-point delivery from the corner.

Despite their defeat against Lebanon, Vanuatu head coach Etienne Mermer was proud of his side and had encouraging words to say. “Being here is a great experience for the Vanuatu team. We’ve never played teams like India, Lebanon, and Mongolia before. It’s always challenging to play in Asia,” he said.

The match is set to kick off at 730 pm, and Indian football fans will be hoping for another convincing performance from their team as they look to secure their place in the final.

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