Igor Stimac says India men’s football team ‘ready’ for 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

With exactly one week left for India to kick off their campaign in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata (from June 8), head coach Igor Stimac spoke about playing in Kolkata, the toughest team to face, injuries, preparations, him taking care of the boys, and much more. At the same time, he underlined his confidence in qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

EXCERPTS:

We saw a spectacle in the stands the last time India played an international game in Kolkata. What are you waiting for this time?

For the past two years we have only played away. It was difficult for the team. There have been so many COVID measures, and it has been really difficult. No one thought about football at that time, and everyone survived some hardships. Now that we are back to normal and can play home games again, it feels good.

What is special about Kolkata?

Kolkata is a soccer city. You can feel the football, live the football, breathe the football. you get that extra push needed to get players past the limit. I would like to call on all supporters to come back to the stadium and support us. I felt real passion the last time I saw them in Kolkata, and it would be great to play with their support behind our backs.

Which team do you think will be the most difficult to face in Group D?

Afghanistan is the one that comes to mind first. Especially since physically they are much stronger. They have so many players from foreign leagues who have well organized football throughout the year. While these players are playing in quality leagues overseas, we are trying to build the same here, which will take time. That’s why I consider them one of the main adversaries.

What is your assessment of Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has changed a rule that now allows it to naturalize foreigners. So we’ll have to see how much better they are now. Foreign players can bring a lot of value to the team. We try to ensure that the players we bring to the national team understand the importance of quick decision-making on the pitch. But our boys are doing well, and I’m happy with the job they’ve done since we started the camp in Bellary and then continued the good work in Kolkata.

How confident are you going into the three games?

We are confident. We have three games to ensure India qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023. That’s the only goal. We are here, we are ready and we will.

One week from the end, where are the preparations?

It’s the last week and there are a few things we’re working on — putting the finishing touches. We are working on set pieces and some aspects of our attack and defense. Obviously, there are different aspects to each of them. There are some issues, especially minor injuries to some players, but we’re dealing with them as best we can.

What’s the update on injuries in the camp?

Liston (Colaco) joined us through injury after the AFC Cup, so that’s an area we’re looking at. He did well with ATK Mohun Bagan, and he’s a player who can provide real quality in one-on-one situations, and can also pass and score well. However, Ritwik Das was recently diagnosed with chicken pox, so we brought in Deepak Tangri to replace him. Deepak can play in both positions in midfield and as a centre-back where we actually prefer him.

Someone you miss?

We miss others like Rahul KP, Apuia, Vikram and Rahim Ali. I mention Rahim all the time for a specific reason. Maybe he will be the one to replace Sunil Chhetri. That’s why we have to think about managing these players and treating them well.

In what state of mind will the team approach these three matches?

We go there with a positive mindset. To be successful, you need a positive mindset, a good character, and a bit of luck. If you go into a match intending to defend for 90 minutes, you won’t succeed. You must enter the match with the intention of hurting your opponents or you will go down, whether in the first five minutes or in injury time.

Is there pressure on the players?

There is absolutely no pressure on them when it comes to results. No one will ask them questions if we fail. The questions will come to me. The pressure on them is to follow the plan we set out for them. There is a head coach who has a plan and tells them what to do.

What do you tell them?

It is very important to think about what to tell them and where to push them further. You can’t always push players over the limit – you have to pick the times when you have to. What I always ask them is to stay disciplined and follow what we are working on. Sure, they can make mistakes and things can get a little here and there within 90 minutes. But that’s football – you make mistakes. But the most important thing is not to repeat them.

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