Indian men's national team head coach Igor Stimac shared his thoughts on the AFC Asian Cup 2023 draw, after seeing his side placed in Group B alongside Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria.

The Blue Tigers, who are currently ranked 101 in the FIFA Rankings, saw themselves drawn into a challenging group for the continental competition. Australia and Uzbekistan, ranked 29th and 74th respectively in the FIFA rankings, are currently in good form and are ranked higher than Stimac’s side, while Syria, ranked 90th, displayed valiant efforts during the qualifying campaign and earned a direct qualification to the tournament.

Reflecting on the draw, Stimac said to TOI, “We always knew it's going to be a tough group, but I don't want to waste time thinking about it.”

At the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the Indian men's national football team were placed in Pot 3 and drawn into a tricky group alongside Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They started off strong with a convincing 4-1 victory over Thailand followed by a 0-2 defeat to UAE. But their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage were ultimately dashed by a last-minute penalty conceded to Bahrain in the final group game.

This time, hailing from pot 4, it was already known from the outset that the Blue Tigers would face three higher-ranked teams in their group. The 55-year-old believes that the outcome of the draw could have been worse than this.

“This group is much tougher (than in 2019) but being in pot four, whichever teams we draw, would always be higher ranked. This (group) could have been worse,” said Stimac.

The Indian head coach, who was present at the draw ceremony along with AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey, spent time with other managers. He believes that despite being drawn against a lower-ranked opponent in India, the Blue Tigers will not be taken lightly by their opposition.

“If you look at the coaches of the teams we face, this should be one of the toughest groups. All very serious and experienced coaches. But what’s giving me confidence is that whoever I have met here, says India is an organised side and looks like a team that can hurt others. That’s something we can build on,” opined Stimac.

This will be India's fifth appearance in the AFC Asian Cup and their first back-to-back appearance. The Blue Tigers will kick off their campaign on the second day of the competition, January 13, 2024, when they face Australia at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium (5 pm IST).

They will then play against Uzbekistan five days later on January 18, 2024, at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium (8 pm IST), before playing their final group game against Syria on January 23, 2024, at the Al Bayt Stadium (5 pm IST).

With the top two from each group and the four best third-place teams advancing to the round-of-16, Stimac aims to make the most of the preparation camp and ensure that his side displays a courageous effort in the tournament.

“Now it's all about preparations. I spoke with several coaches here and most of them will have a four-week camp. Some of the teams will miss players who are playing in Europe since the clubs will release only a week prior (to the tournament) but the others will be available. We have to be ready,” concluded Stimac.