Stimac: Constant changes, injuries make a coach's job difficult

Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac is gearing his side to play in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata.

India will be playing its AFC Asian Cup qualifiers at home in Kolkata.   -  Twitter @IndianFootball

Despite all odds, Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac is backing his side to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup.

Even as the team has been troubled by injuries and cancellation of a friendly against Zambia, Stimac was satisfied with the overall preparation for the Asian Cup final qualifying round, starting here from June 8.

“The camp was planned carefully. Our main worry was fitness. Bellary (camp) was a good decision. It had good facilities for fitness conditioning. Coming to Kolkata was a good choice. It’s a football city. You get that extra needed to push players to the limit,” said Stimac, at a roundtable interaction on Tuesday, hours after the team landed here after playing its friendly against Jordan in Doha. India lost the game 2-0 on Saturday.

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“Only bad thing was Zambia cancelling the match.”

Stimac informed that centre-back Deepak Tangri would replace Ritwik Das, who is ruled out due to chicken pox.

Looking back at the Jordan match, Stimac said, “We went into it with a great mindset, thinking how to win. Most of all, for me, is the quality of performance.”

Entering the final week of preparation, Stimac said the primary goal would be to qualify for the Asian Cup. “We have to make sure India gets the points to qualify. We are here, ready and we will do it with the help of supporters.”

Stimac said Afghanistan, which has allowed its players to play in foreign leagues, and Hong Kong, which has changed rules to allow foreigners, will be tough sides in Group D. He expected Cambodia to play counter-attacking football.

Asked whether the team has settled down, Stimac said, “It would be better if we could have the same 20 players. But constant changes, injuries, make a coach's job difficult. You need to change the players and some tactical points, sometimes lose balance. When we started work, we relied on (midfielder Rowlin) Borges heavily. Where is Borges now? A player who I relied heavily back then – tall, physically good and good passing. Disappeared. I pray he comes back, but with mild injuries he kept playing, and then went.”

The coach showered praise on goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. “He is definitely among the top five in Asia. Physique, reaction, mentality, character and approach to the game is as good as anyone. Of course, there are circumstances and all can bring anyone down. But he is one guy who can bring us forward, he is crucial to the team and I am confident of him.. he will make mistakes, but in 99 per cent of cases, he will bail us out. Especially coming out and collecting crosses.”

About forward Sunil Chhetri, Stimac said the whole team needed to play well to create chances for Chhetri to score goals.

Stimac said even though the Indian Super League (ISL) provided a good stage, the youngsters getting good salaries there needed to be protected. “Salaries bring comfort and comfort brings weakness, weakness brings possible problems of disappearing soon.”

On I-League champion Gokulam Kerala coach Vincenzo Annese reportedly claiming that some of his players could play in the National side, Stimac said, “They had a great season, but let's stay realistic. Never mind the win Gokulam had against ATK. If they play 10 matches, they will win one. I am quite sure each coach of the I-League will say the same thing – three of its players could play.”

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