No player guaranteed a spot in the team, says Igor Stimac

Speaking ahead of the India vs Oman friendly, Indian football team's coach Igor Stimac says he "cannot rely on the past" and that no player is guaranteed a spot in the team.

Igor Stimac

Igor Stimac's Blue Tigers will return to action for the first time in over a year when they take on Oman on Thursday.   -  Special Arrangement

The Indian men's football team will take the field after 16 months when it faces Oman in a friendly on Thursday at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.

Without the presence of talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri, head-coach Igor Stimac’s men will look to get a positive result, especially considering how the Blue Tigers lost to Oman in September 2019 despite leading till the 82nd minute during its opening World Cup qualifier match.

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Talking on the eve of the game, Stimac said, “We learn every day and from every training session. The learning never stops for us. There is not as much pressure on us when we play teams like Qatar or Oman. But when we play teams like Bangladesh of Afghanistan, the onus is on us to create chances and control the game. Our intention is to play good football, and that’s what we are working on.” Stimac will face a familiar face as his compatriot from Croatia, Branko Ivankovic, will be in charge of the Oman dugout.

Speaking of the competition for positions, Stimac said no player is guaranteed a spot in the team. “I cannot rely on the past. I can select the squad based on past results, but those players need to work hard. We closely monitor them, and then discuss which players fit into the starting XI,” he said.

Veteran defender Sandesh Jhingan, who was also present at the media interaction, said the Blue Tigers' recent performances have earned them respect in Asia.

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 “Teams like Oman and UAE also look at us as tough opponents. If you look at the Oman game in Guwahati, we deserved to win that match. Yes, we could have done better and we let ourselves down, but such matches show that India are a strong team and that the growth is there. We have earned respect in Asia,” Jhingan said.

- Long-term plan -

This year’s Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21) saw many Indian players such as Akash Mishra, Lalengmawia Ralte, Liston Colaco and Ishan Pandita flourish. Relishing a blend of experienced players along with this troupe of new faces at his disposal, Stimac has ample option for experimentation but said he would not rush into it.

“We need to be careful with the new players. We need to proceed systematically. We have to ensure that they provide good football. From technical qualities to game reading and speed of thinking…. I just hope most will use this chance to settle better and will continue to spark for the national team,” the India coach said.

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Stimac said he is aiming at developing a solid core, which would be beneficial for the team in the long run. “Right now it’s important that the young players get match time and get valuable experience. As I said, we have young players and experienced players and we plan to use that to our best to build a strong base for the future,” he added.

Asked about the exclusion of I-League players from the squad, he said there is no "good quality" player currently playing in the I-League who could be in contention for the national team.  

"At the moment there is no such player (in I-League) who has the quality to be able to join the national team. There is nothing to hide about it. All the best players from I-League are supposed to become part of ISL because they are all followed by ISL clubs scouting.

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"(Shanmugam) Venkatesh from my staff is following all the players of the I-League. But the door is open and we are going to act according to the feedback from the I-League scouting system," he added.

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