Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac expressed eagerness for the challenge ahead as they prepare to face Australia in their opening game of the AFC Asian Cup at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, this Saturday. 

India are set to encounter tough opponents with subsequent matches against Uzbekistan and Syria to follow in Group B, all of whom hold higher FIFA Rankings.

Despite the challenging lineup, India, with a blend of youth and experience in their squad, will aim to make a strong impression. Key players like Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan, and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who were part of the 2019 edition, bring valuable experience. Stimac encouraged his team to maximise their experience in Asia’s premier international tournament.

“We are excited that the kick-off time is close. We have had a nice 12 days here, working really hard and preparing on certain things. All the boys are excited, and we are looking forward to the game. Hopefully, this turns out to be a wonderful experience for all of us, especially for 17 out of 26 players we have here, who are debutants in this competition. It’s something they should learn from,”  Stimac said in the pre-match press conference.

Ranked 101 in the FIFA Rankings, India face their toughest challenge against Australia, the highest-ranked team in their Group, who are placed 25th in the FIFA Rankings. The Socceroos boast an experienced head coach in Graham Arnold, who has been at the helm of the senior team since 2018. Before assuming the role of head coach, Arnold served as an assistant coach for both the senior team and was also in charge of the U-23 team. Stimac spoke highly of Arnold and the Australian team, acknowledging their extensive collaboration over an extended period.

“We know the strengths of Australia. They have a wonderful team. Graham (Arnold) and myself are the longest-serving managers at the same position here at the tournament. His advantage is that even prior to taking charge of the (senior) national team, he was working with the Under-23 team. He took all the young players that he was coaching into the senior squad, and they know the process. They know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.”

He added: “They play very pragmatic football, insisting on what are their strengths and do that; coming to the flanks, putting in many crosses into the box and attacking those crosses with wonderful strength and great execution. They caused a lot of problems to England with the set-pieces. We can expect the storms coming out of them but we need to find a way to defend such situations and stay compact. First stop the distribution to the flanks whenever we can and if that’s not possible we need to do everything possible to stop the crosses coming into our box,” 

The last encounter between the two teams took place during the 2011 edition of the AFC Asian Cup, resulting in a 4-0 victory for Australia over India. Given the calibre of their players and their technical prowess, Australia will be expected to assert dominance over India once again.

Despite recognising the formidable challenges ahead, Stimac emphasised that his team will not adopt a passive stance. He urged his players to approach games like these with determination, putting their best efforts forward without being overly concerned about the final outcome.

“Being humble prior to these games is the most important thing and embracing the opportunity when it arrives before the game. But if you are going to ask me what we are going to do, We're not going to give up on our idea of football. We're not going to sit back. We didn't come here to defend on the edge of the box. We are going to go out there and enjoy football as we did in the last four years, that’s the process we have been working on. And if defeats come throughout the process, I have nothing against it. I know all our boys will give everything and leave everything on the pitch; that’s the most important for me.”