Ahead of Doha challenge, Pandita acknowledges AFC Champions League’s contribution towards enhancing his game

Ishan Pandita is one of 11 players from 2020-21 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) that has gone on to represent the national team. In FC Goa colours in what was his first season in India’s premier football league, the striker scored four goals and helped the Gaurs earn crucial points on their way to the semi-finals.

And then in late March, he debuted for India against Oman in an international friendly in Dubai, followed by another international tie a few days later against the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Things happened pretty fast for him, didn’t they? -- considering he had returned to India just ahead of the 2020-21 Hero ISL season after playing a lot of football in Spain for teams like Pobla Mafumet and Lorca FC.

“It was quite a learning experience. In modern-day football, a striker also needs to help his team by defending as and when required.

“As a striker, you just can’t wait for the ball to come to you – you need to stay involved throughout. It was my taste of international football and that too against such tough oppositions like Oman and the UAE,” Pandita shared his India experience in an interview to footballmonk.com.

In April, ensued the AFC Champions League action with FC Goa and Pandita learnt some more. And it didn’t come as a surprise when national coach Igor Stimac picked him again for India’s remaining three matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 joint qualifiers in Doha. When asked if he thought that playing in the continental club competition in April was going to help him in the Qatari capital from June 3 onwards, the 22-year-old replied in the affirmative.

“Yes, it will. The AFC Champions League was a fantastic experience. To play at the highest level in Asia was a great platform for me. It enabled me to rub shoulders against the best in Asia and get enlightened as a player. Playing such matches helps and improves yourself as a player,” he said.

Since returning to India, Pandita has improved in no small measure under FC Goa head coach Juan Ferrando and Stimac. Pandita though refrained from comparing the coaching styles of the two. “I think it’s too early for me to compare the styles and systems of both the coaches as I haven’t spent as much time with Igor Stimac as much I have with Juan Ferrando.

“I can say both are very good coaches and are always looking to help and develop the players. Most importantly, they are great human beings too,” he said.

Last time Pandita played for India, Sunil Chhetri, the national team’s talisman for years now, wasn’t around as he was recovering from Covid-19. That way the stay in Doha can help Pandita immensely in terms of learning from one of the legends in Indian football. “Yes, this would be the first time sharing the field with him. Obviously, like any other young player, I’m eager to learn from Sunil. He is a great professional on and off the field. I’m sure he’ll help me develop my game — more so since we play in the same position,” Pandita said.

India play Qatar on June 3 before Bangladesh and Afghanistan line up on June 7 and June 15 respectively. India still stand a chance to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and Pandita believes the Indian players have in them to get the desirable results. “…I’m sure the coach will come up with a game plan and as players, it’s our responsibility to execute them. I’m sure we can pull off a good result if we stay compact, hold our shape and convert our chances,” he said.

 

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