Confident of India’s AFC Asian Cup chances, Stimac zeroes in on Bangladesh and Afghanistan ties
National coach Igor Stimac believes India can make it to the AFC Asian Cup to be held in China in 2023. The Blue Tigers are currently in Doha to participate in their remaining three matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. While they are already out of contention for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, they still stand a chance as regards the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Stimac’s men are presently placed fourth in Group E with three points from five games and need to finish third in order to directly qualify for the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
"I’m very confident that at the end of this journey, we will be in the AFC Cup. I know that our actual situation at the moment is far from ideal. The Qatar team is fully prepared. The Bangladesh side was playing in their league until recently. They will be much better prepared. Many players in the Afghanistan side are playing in Europe or in the United States, so they will be in full swing. All we can promise is that we will give everything in these matches. We’ll only learn how well we can perform when we step out onto the pitch, but I know we can do it,” Stimac said in a media interaction.
The Blue Tigers were last in action in late March earlier this year for two international friendlies against Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, skipper Sunil Chhetri had to miss out on those games on account of testing positive for Covid-19 and the subsequent recovery process. “Having Sunil Chhetri back is great for all of us. But we also need to be clever here, because there are three games in few days, so I need to be careful in where I use him. Obviously, the most important games for us are the ones against Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In a few days I should have a clearer picture of his levels, and how he can be best used," Stimac said.
The Croatian also expressed his concerns over a lack of competitive footballing action for players in the team, with the exception of FC Goa players who played six matches in the AFC Champions League in April and maybe Bengaluru FC who were busy with their AFC Cup qualifiers preparations and even played a game against Nepal’s Tribhuvan Army FC last month. "We are in a situation which is far away from normal preparation for the World Cup qualifiers. Most Hero ISL matches ended in February. After that, we were able to organise just a couple of matches [international friendlies] in Dubai. The situation now is that in the camp, we have a very limited number of players who will be able to play three matches in quick succession, which are the footballers from Bengaluru FC and FC Goa. The amount of time we have right now to prepare, it’s not enough, but we have to make do with what we have,” Stimac said.
"Our initial plan was to start the camp on 15 April, but we had to move it to 1 May. We wanted to play a few matches with local teams in Kolkata but due to no one’s fault, owing to the pandemic, it was cancelled. Before all this happened, if you told me how it would unfold, I wouldn’t have accepted it,” he added.