Igor Stimac happy with draw against Oman as 10 players make international debut

The Indian national team marked their return to international football with a closely fought 1-1 draw against Oman at the Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Thursday. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh saved a penalty in the first half but was unfortunate to concede an own goal before the break. Manvir Singh scored the equaliser in the second half to earn a draw for the Blue Tigers.

Speaking to AIFF TV following the match, head coach Igor Stimac was content with the result but expected a better first half performance from his team. “One good thing about the match was the result. To be honest, I was more than worried after the first 45 minutes because we couldn't find a way to hold the ball, we couldn't find a player except for Suresh (Wangjam), who was the youngest one, to take the responsibility to try and pass the ball the way we were doing in training. But Oman used this little wind in the first half,” he said.

While assessing his team’s initial approach in the match, Stimac added: "We didn't do two basic things which I had asked them to do. We didn't put pressure on the players with the ball in our half and we didn't stay too far from their players when they were creating on their build-up and that created a lot of problems. They were rising up in confidence, we were very low with confidence. I told them one thing. The result is something that I need to care about, not you. You need to come out and play without fear.”

Trailing by a solitary goal heading into the break, India did well in the second period to earn a draw and their performance after the restart was a reflection of Stimac’s team’s ability to face higher-ranked sides without fear. “In the second half, we showed that we have nothing to fear about. Of course, these are better sides because when you get into the top 100, the difference of 25 to 30 spots is a big difference.

“It was not easy after they put pressure on our back four, to kick the ball out and get out of your own half [in the first half]. But the whole team reacted well in the second half, they did their best, they tried everything. We had some good transitions which I was looking for,” The Croat added.

As many as 10 players made their national team debut against Oman, including six in the starting line-up. Akash Mishra, Ashutosh Mehta, Chinglensana Singh, Suresh Wangjam, Bipin Singh and Jeakson Singh all started the game, while Lalengmawia, Mohammed Yasir, Ishan Pandita and Mashoor Shereef came on as substitutes.

Although the Blue Tigers were unable to win the match, Stimac was happy with the contribution of all his players who received their first senior national cap in the draw against Oman. “In the end, I was happy because 10 debutants played, 10 new faces, some of them with lots of minutes on the pitch. They all did their part against Oman.”

India’s next challenge will see them take on the United Arab Emirates at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on March 29. The 53-year-old head coach will be looking to rest some of the players who were involved in Thursday’s game and give others in the squad a chance to show their quality. “There is another game now and I need to give a chance to other players who didn't play today, which is why we are here. In a month, we will start from scratch and I need to find out what they can do against such sides,” Stimac said.

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