"Both teams are almost on the same level" - Lebanon coach Aleksandar Ilic previews SAFF Championship 2023 semifinal clash against India

Lebanon players celebrate their goal against Maldives. [Credits: AIFF]
Lebanon players celebrate their goal against Maldives. (Credits: AIFF)

Lebanon head coach Aleksandar Ilic is anticipating a hard-fought contest when his team meets India in the semifinals of the SAFF Championship 2023 on Saturday (July 1) at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

Ilic's men secured top spot in Group B with a 1-0 defeat of Maldives on Wednesday (June 28). Captain Hassan Maatouk found the back of the net with a well-struck free-kick, which took a minor deflection, midway through the first half.

Lebanon (99th in the FIFA rankings) head into their semifinal against the Blue Tigers (101st) as the only team to have won all their group games in the tournament. Igor Stimac's men, meanwhile, beat Pakistan and Nepal before drawing 1-1 with Kuwait on June 27 to finish second in Group A.

At a press conference after Lebanon's win over Maldives, Ilic previewed his side's semifinal clash:

"We have a very difficult game against India. We respect the Indian team very much because they have done a great job. We have experience, of course, playing two matches already against them. I think both teams are almost on the same level, and small things could make the difference in this next game."

The Serbian tactician was also questioned if he will need to make any tactical changes when they meet Sunil Chhetri and Co., to which he responded:

"Yes, of course. India is very strong from the sides, and their captain is very dangerous. We have already experienced (what they can do), and we will try to do our best."

Ilic added that both his side and the Blue Tigers seem tired after playing several games in the ongoing international window. The two teams also competed in the Intercontinental Cup earlier this month.

"It's not easy for both teams because they are the only two teams to have played a lot of games in a short time. I watched the game yesterday, and it was not easy for India because they are losing freshness, and the quality is going down," he said.

Ilic notably made three half-time substitutes despite his team holding a 1-0 lead. When asked why he did so, the Lebanon coach explained that it was to maintain freshness in his squad, which will get just two days off before the semifinals.

India beat Lebanon in their most recent meeting

Lebanon have been on a roll this month, winning five of their seven games. However, the only times they have failed to win in this stretch were both against India.

The two teams drew goalless in the group stage of the Intercontinental Cup 2023 in a game that saw some interesting tactics from both sides. As the two best teams in the tournament, they clashed again in the final.

This time, some splendid football to start the second half saw Sunil Chhetri and Lallianzuala Chhangte find the back of the net. The Blue Tigers eventually won 2-0 to lift the trophy.

So, another entertaining clash awaits when India and Lebanon clash in the semifinals of the SAFF Championship 2023 this weekend.

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Edited by Anantaajith Raghuraman
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