New Delhi: The Indian senior men’s team will be back in action on home soil after nine months in the Tri-Nation football tournament from March 22 and head coach Igor Stimac has asserted that his side will do everything to win it.
Imphal will welcome the Blue Tigers (106 in FIFA Rankings) for the first time, and the tournament will also feature Myanmar (159 in FIFA Rankings) and the Kyrgyz Republic (94 in FIFA Rankings).
Stimac emerged in the Indian football scene a few months after the country played the 2019 AFC Asian Cup final rounds. He has succeeded in leading the team to another Asian Cup qualification but he is not satisfied with it.
“No, it does not. That’s only the first step in what we’re trying to achieve. When I joined, the main goal was to reconstruct the team, to play a different type of football, and to win the hearts of the Indian people with the style of play. I would say that we were quite successful in that, having in mind that our work was disrupted by the pandemic for almost two years. We didn’t have a chance to play any home games. There were no friendlies and no qualifiers,” Stimac told aiff.com in the national camp in Kolkata.
“Last year in Kolkata, we played three beautiful games where we proved to everyone that when we get proper time to work, we can achieve better and play good football. But it’s the second step that is the most challenging one. We are well aware that we’re going to face the continent’s best teams in the 2023 Asian Cup. And to do well in such a competition, we need to organise ourselves in a different way, with different styles of football and maintain verticality in our game,” he added.
In another two months, the 55-year old will complete four years as India’s head coach and he feels it has been a difficult journey considering the huge expectations from the team.
“It has been a difficult journey. I say that because the expectations are huge in India. It’s wonderful to have dreams. There is no life without dreaming about achieving things. And to succeed, time is precious. You can count on fulfilling your dreams if you are provided time to work. I just hope that the next eight or nine months will serve us well to prepare for the Asian Cup,” the coach said.
“The calendar for the next season is going to be difficult. We want to utilise the September, October and November international windows well, and I hope all stakeholders of Indian Football get involved and help the national team,” he added.
The 2023 Asian Cup is only 10 months away from the 2023 Asian Cup but Stimac feels that the team is not yet completely ready for the tournament.
“At the moment, we are not completely ready for the Asian Cup. In this March window, we will be crediting players for their achievements this season, recognising their performances, and giving them a chance to fight for a place in the team. The competition for places in the final squad for the Asian Cup will go all the way until the end. The spots are open for everyone with an Indian passport, and not only those involved in the ISL,” he said.
“Our focus now is on all players involved in Indian football — whether it is the Santosh Trophy or the I-League. So, I’m using this opportunity to invite all these boys who are dreaming about representing their country in the Asian Cup to work on themselves and put in lots of hard work. Our scouting team will go everywhere in the next eight-nine months to watch everyone. We’re going to give an opportunity to all those who we think might help us in the Asian Cup,” he added.
Asked about the expectations and targets from the Tri-Nation international football tournament, Stimac said the team is going to do absolutely everything to win.
“Winning it. We are the hosts, and we’re going to do absolutely everything to win the tournament. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy because we’ve got a lot of players who will be involved in the Hero ISL Final, who will be physically and mentally exhausted. Half of them will be in a worse position because they will be defeated in the final. And my job is to regenerate them, help them bounce back and find the strength and ability to play these two games and represent India in a good way,” the coach said.
The coach also shared his assessment on two rival teams.
“We have analysed our opponents. Myanmar are the lower-ranked one but they have changed their approach to the game in the last few years. They try to play middle-press football, which could be challenging because if you don’t break them down in the first 45 minutes, it gets more and more difficult. It’s all about patience, quick passing and going into the final third with quality against such teams. Playing simple football, passing the ball vertically, and winning the yards behind the defenders will be the most important and crucial things,” he said.
Kyrgyz Republic are a very well-organised side. They are better ranked than us. They play very good quality football. I was watching their game against Russia. They played wonderful football against such a strong and competitive side. They have many quality players with strength and speed. It’s going to be very interesting,” he added.
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