Igor Stimac hails fervour of 'fantastic' Kerala fans

India national team head coach Igor Stimac, on Monday, got his first taste of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) and needless to say, the Croat was left impressed with what he saw.

Stimac, who was at attendance for the Hero ISL 2019-20 season opener between Kerala Blasters FC and ATK in Kochi, was left spellbound by the passion and fervour of the capacity home crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Referencing the sold-out crowds the India team played in front of at Guwahati and Kolkata recently in their FIFA World Cup Qualifiers campaign, the 52-year-old stated, "It’s great to be a part of it. Guwahati, then Kolkata, two sold-out stadiums, and now coming here (Kochi). I heard a lot about passion (of Kerala fans). I heard it in Doha when Manjappada was behind us throughout the 90 minutes (during the match against Qatar) and they were fantastic. This time, they were amazing here."

The match was preceded by a glittering opening ceremony, highlighted by performances by Tiger Shroff, Disha Patani and award-winning dance group King's United. Commending the organizers for the ceremony and the overall effort that goes behind conducting a competition like the Hero ISL, the Blue Tigers head coach stated, "The (Hero ISL) ceremony, and all the efforts of Hero ISL and their owners that they have put into it. If we could raise up our game to 50% of the quality of the ceremony, then it would be phenomenal!"

Regarding the match itself, Stimac opined, "It’s the start of the (Hero ISL) season. First few rounds, the legs will be heavy from the pre-season training sessions. But I see both teams (Kerala and ATK) as top four (contenders) for the season. They are very serious teams, they have good structure, good coaches."

Finally, as an advice to all the young Indian footballers waiting to prove themselves in this season's competition, the World Cup bronze medallist said, "Just do your best. Do not put pressure on yourself of making mistakes. And if the coach believes in you, if he puts you in the line-up then do the best you can. Because, that’s all that matters, who is on the pitch and how he plays, that’s the only way you can be in the first XI."

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