It was a good learning experience for us: Igor Stimac
India exit the AFC Asian Cup following a defeat against Syria.
Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac expressed disappointment as his plan fell short, resulting in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Syria in their final group game of the AFC Asian Cup at the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday.
The Blue Tigers entered this game on the heels of two defeats in their opening matches against Australia and Uzbekistan. Only a win in this game could have kept their hopes alive to qualify for the Round of 16 as one of the best third-place teams. However, India conclude their campaign with another defeat and returns with zero points on the board.
Stimac’s men, in search of a winner, started the game lively, creating a couple of chances within the opening ten minutes. However, after that, it was all Syria and a solitary goal from substitute Omar Khribin dashed the hopes of the Blue Tigers.
“Congratulations to the Syrian team; they deserved it in the end. They were more powerful and more relaxed in those final third moments,” Stimac said in the post-match press conference.
“(It was a) good learning experience for us, I would say, because overall, in three games, we proved that we can compete at this level. Everybody sees what the missing points are in the Indian play: scoring goals, which comes with having good goal scorers in the team – people with confidence in front of the goal,” he added.
The Croatian believes that participating on the biggest stage of Asian football will undoubtedly provide the players with valuable exposure, ultimately contributing to their development for the future.
“We can take a good lesson from here, and in the next edition of the AFC Asian Cup, we're going to be much stronger, definitely,” Stimac opined.
However, the campaign proved unsatisfactory for the Indian football team. Not only did they fail to register any points on the board, but they also struggled to score goals in any of their three group-stage matches.
Stimac attributes this goal-scoring challenge to the absence of an experienced centre forward, identifying it as one of the primary reasons for India's inability to convert promising goal-scoring opportunities into actual goals.
“The team produced enough chances to score goals, and you all know in India why we are not scoring goals at the international level. It should happen when we start having Indian players in the centre-forward position; then, we're going to have many more goal-scorers for the national team,” he stated.
Stimac was compelled to make a substitution early in the second half, as experienced centre-back Sandesh Jhingan had to leave the field due to injury.
Despite this setback, Rahul Bheke seamlessly transitioned from right back to the centre-back position, forming a partnership with Subhasish Bose. The duo performed admirably, except for the goal they conceded in the 76th minute.
“(Rahul) Bheke and Subhasish (Bose) were quite good today, confident in everything. Although Bheke getting booked so early into the game didn't make it easier for him, he controlled everything and every situation in a quite satisfying way,” he said.
Attacking midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad made his first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup, entering the match as a substitute in the second half. Midfielders Suresh Wangjam Singh and Anirudh Thapa were also given ample time to make an impact on the game, but unfortunately, they failed to leave a positive impression as India succumbed to yet another defeat.
“I think our biggest problem today was that we had a clear plan to take the game into the 60th minute with a clean sheet and to bring on fresh legs, which I was hoping would give us something and make an impact on the team in the last 30 minutes, which obviously didn't happen,” Stimac commented.