Igor Stimac: India faces an uphill task against Afghanistan

The India head coach admits his team’s winless streak in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will not be easy to break in Dushanbe.

Igor Stimac: “I’m optimistic that boys will put together their efforts to churn out a positive result against Afghanistan.”   -  AP

India head coach Igor Stimac has admitted his team’s winless streak in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will not be easy to break in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where it plays Afghanistan on Thursday, November 14.

The fixture is crucial for India to remain in the hunt in the qualifiers. The Afghans are placed third in the group with one win and two losses, a notch above India which has two draws and a defeat so far. “The climatic condition in Dushanbe is very different from what we have experienced in India at this time. It’s very cold and mercury level drops to closer to sub-zero,” Stimac told PTI in an interview.

The war-ravaged Afghanistan chose Dushanbe as its home venue for the second round. The Group E match will be played on artificial turf. “Moreover, the match is scheduled on an artificial turf which our players are not used to. Afghanistan have chosen the venue to make others’ life difficult and we have an uphill task in front of us to overcome it,” he added.

India is fourth in Group E with just two points after consecutive draws against Asian champions Qatar and Bangladesh. It had lost to Oman in its first match on September 5 in Guwahati.

The absence of a direct flight to Dushanbe has also made the situation difficult. The team had to leave after the November 10 Indian Super League match involving Bengaluru FC where the talismanic Sunil Chhetri and some key players ply their trade. The team will reach Dushanbe on Wednesday, just a day before the match.

Read | Converting chances a concern for Sunil Chhetri

“The journey and flight itinerary is a tedious one. We have reached Dubai last night and have a morning training session here this morning. We are leaving for Dushanbe this evening only and reaching there tomorrow (November 13),” said the Croatian tactician.

‘Tricky fixture’

“So, it will be a tricky fixture. As professionals, we have to adapt to newer challenges and everyone including AIFF is putting their best effort together. I’m optimistic that boys will put together their efforts to churn out a positive result against Afghanistan.”

Stimac said a victory against Afghanistan will boost his side and will help build the momentum for the clash against Oman in the away matches in Muscat on November 19. “We have improved a lot since our first game [against Oman]. We can show what we are capable of without our key players sometimes (including defender Sandesh Jhingan and midfielder Rowlin Borges). The result against Afghanistan in Dushanbe will have a major impact on the entire team. A win will boost our confidence by manifold before we head to Muscat.”

Stimac admitted India’s performance against Bangladesh in its previous match in Kolkata was not as good as the first two games , against Oman and Qatar. He felt positioning, intelligent passing and better conversion of chances could have swung the result in India’s favour. “It is much more difficult to play against someone who defends very deep with all the players behind the ball, than against the teams playing attacking football.

“We had made 510 passes against Bangladesh out of which 85 per cent were successful compared to only 131 passes by our opponents. We also had 17 attempts. Overall, it was a good team performance. Also, it is important to point out that we played against Bangladesh without Sandesh and Borges, a few of our most important players in building up the game.”

Asked what he will do differently against Afghanistan, he said, “We have to avoid injuries. We have already lost Sandesh and Rowllin due to injuries and we can’t afford to have any more. We have to execute our plans in the right way. The boys are up and running and they are confident.”

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