Bold start to Stimac-era promises exciting times ahead for Indian football
Igor Stimac’s first test as India's head coach at the King’s Cup in Thailand left Indian football fans with a sense of upbeat anticipation and with good reason. Over the last two matches, we got a little taste of what to expect from the team going forward. Although Stimac fielded two very different line-ups in the two ties, his style of play has been consistent and exciting. Even if the personnel in the matches were different, his demands from the players have been largely the same - positive and fearless football.
In his press conferences, during and prior to the tournament, Stimac promised focus on youth incorporation and attractive football and its safe to say the Croat has delivered and then some.
Stimac handed debuts to six players - Sahal Abdul Samad, Brandon Fernandes, Raynier Fernandes, Amarjit Singh, Rahul Bheke and Michael Soosairaj – during the tour and all of them gave a good accounts of themselves.
Under Stimac, India have adopted an attractive style of football which has seen the team reduce reliance on long balls. The King's Cup matches put forth a much more mobile Blue Tigers setup focussed on ball retention, patiently moving the ball around, and trying to stretch the game as much as possible in order to create gaps to exploit. The pace of players like Udanta Singh, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Michael Soosairaj proved ideal to draw defenders out of their positions allowing the likes Brandon, Anirudh Thapa and Sahal to weave their magic in the middle of the park. Players looked to create small passing triangles and move the ball forward swiftly. On multiple occasions over the course of the tournament, we saw players play quick one-touch football that was aesthetically pleasing as well as effective.
With the introduction of a host of new players to the squad, Stimac has created a positive competition for every position, which is bound to improve performance levels of every player on the long run. The right mix of youth and experience could see the team do wonders in the upcoming engagements.
Many players who featured in Thailand were around the age of 20, signalling Stimac's intent to build for the future. The team chemistry may still be very raw, but as time passes, expect the squad to incorporate the Croat's playing style even more prominently to yield even better results.
The rise in the level of the domestic leagues in India has seen players become more receptive to changes in tactics and it has certainly helped in making the transition period shorter under the new stewardship. In just over a couple of weeks, Stimac has been able to communicate his philosophy to the players and the results were very much visible on the field. Beating a strong Thailand side with many of the senior players rested was no mean feat.
It was certainly a good start for the Blue Tigers under Stimac in Thailand and the upcoming Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 in Ahmedabad will help us get a better understanding of what we can expect from the team in the future and the players who fit the new boss's system. Exciting times ahead for Indian football fans!