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India looks to extend winning form against Vanuatu

India will be seeking to continue its winning form as it meets Vanuatu in the second round of the Intercontinental Cup league fixtures, at Kalinga Stadium on Monday.

India had the better of Mongolia in the opening round which it won by a comfortable 2-0 margin. For the island nation Vanuatu, the start was not ideal as it went down 1-3 to Lebanon. With the top two teams in the league standings scheduled to play the final, a win against 164th-ranked Vanuatu will be taking India close to the title round.

India’s head coach Igor Stimac sounded satisfied with the way his team performed against Mongolia to bring up its sixth consecutive win at home (the count starts with India’s qualification to the Asian Cup last year). “We have more games this month and I am certain that all the hard work the boys are putting on the pitch is fetching them the rewards,” Stimac said of India’s chances in the ongoing tournament and in the upcoming SAFF Championship later this month.

“It is not an easy task as the boys braved the intense heat and humidity (of Bhubaneswar) and underwent three weeks of training without any complaint,” he added.

Much like Mongolia, Vanuatu will be playing its first match against India.

“We knew it would be difficult but we had a good game against Lebanon. Being here is a great experience for the Vanuatu team. We have never played teams like India, Lebanon and Mongolia before. It is always challenging to play in Asia,” said the Vanuatu head coach Etienne Mermer after his team’s first outing in the tournament.

The Oceania country is not new to Indian colts as an under-18 side toured Vanuatu in 2019 and beat the host 1-0 en route to winning an OFC youth development tournament in its capital Port Vila. From the current squad of the senior Indian team, left-back Akash Mishra is the only player from that junior side that had travelled to the Southern Pacific nation.

Making his assessment of Vanuatu from its opening match against Lebanon, the Indian head coach felt that his boys will have to contend against a physically robust side.

“What we saw in Vanuatu’s game against Lebanon, it is obvious that they are a physical side. They have their strengths and weaknesses, so we need to get ready for such a game,” Stimac said.