King’s Cup 2023: Chhetri-less India face tough test against Iraq, Thailand and Lebanon


The Indian men’s football team is back in action on Thursday, with a tough clash against Iraq to commence their King’s Cup 2023 campaign in Chiang-Mai, Thailand. This will be the team’s first match since winning the SAFF Championship in July, as head coach Igor Stimac looks to find the right combination and tactics ahead of the Asian Cup in January.

Stimac’s side have won three trophies already in 2023 — the Tri-Nation tournament in Imphal in March, the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar in June, and the SAFF Championship in Bengaluru in July. Those results put India back in the top 100 in the FIFA rankings.

Have India played at the King’s Cup before?

Three times before, most recently in 2019, which was Stimac’s first tournament in charge of the team. They lost their first game 3-1 to Curacao, before an Anirudh Thapa goal helped them beat Thailand 1-0 to finish third. India also finished third at the King’s Cup in 1977, before failing to make it past the group stage in 1981.

Who’s playing at the King’s Cup 2023?

The hosts Thailand (FIFA rank 113) and India are joined by Iraq (FIFA rank 70) and Lebanon (FIFA rank 100), in a strong field this year. All four teams will be seen at next year’s AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.

India have never beaten Iraq, who they play in their opening game. In six previous meetings, Iraq have beaten India five times, with the only draw between the two sides coming in 1997. The last meeting between the two sides was a friendly in Sharjah before the 2011 Asian Cup, which Iraq won 2-0.

India have happy recent memories against the hosts, winning the last two games they’ve played against them. Before the 1-0 win at the 2019 King’s Cup, India had also famously beaten Thailand 4-1 in Abu Dhabi to kick off their 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign.

Lebanon are also a side that India should be familiar with, having faced them three times in the space of a month — at the Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championship. India won one of those games (the Intercontinental Cup final) and drew twice, including in the SAFF Championship semifinal, which they then won on penalties.

King’s Cup 2023 – tournament format and schedule

The King’s Cup is a knockout tournament, with the winners of the opening matches on Thursday progressing to the final on Sunday and the losers competing in the third-place playoff.

September 7, 4pm: India vs. Iraq.

September 7, 7pm: Thailand vs. Lebanon.

September 10, 4pm: Third-place playoff.

September 7, 7pm: Final.

India’s squad

Talking points from the Indian squad

Skipper Sunil Chhetri opted out of the tournament for personal reasons, but the return of Brandon Fernandes and Suresh Singh Wangjam provide a boost to Stimac. Senior defenders Rahul Bheke and Pritam Kotal, who were both part of the squads for the two tournaments at home in June, have not been picked for this competition.

East Bengal’s young centre-back Lalchungnunga and Kerala Blasters’s young winger Rahul KP have also been called up to the squad, as Stimac looks to build a pool of players to choose from for the Asian Cup.

However, the team departed for Thailand without goalkeeper Amrinder Singh and left-back Subhasish Bose, who were both named in the original squad by Stimac. The AIFF hasn’t yet provided a reason for the absence of the two players.

India’s matches at the 2023 King’s Cup will be broadcast live on Eurosport and streamed live on FIFA+.

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