Indian football team midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad discussed the determination and positive mindset within the camp as the Blue Tigers maintain their focus on defending the SAFF Championship, in Bengaluru. The 26-year-old has played a crucial role for the team and has been influential, especially in the absence of Brandon Fernandes.

Samad has earned the trust of the coach and emphasises the significance of having trust and belief in the coach.

“It’s important to have trust and belief from the coach, and I’m trying my best and also enjoying the moment,” Samad said in an interaction with the media.

India have started the SAFF Championship on a high note with back-to-back wins against Pakistan and Nepal, but their real test lies ahead when they face in-form Kuwait in the final group stage game on Tuesday.

The midfielder also admits that it won't be a cakewalk for India to defend the title but also mentions that there is no extra pressure on the team.

He said, “The most difficult part is to defend the trophy, but there is no pressure at all because we have a good bunch of players, and everyone has the experience. Young talents are coming up.”

India has been playing a possession-based style of football, focusing on short passes and building from the back. Regarding the current style of play, Samad stated, “You all know we are trying the possession game, trying to hold the ball as much as we can from the wing and the centre and make it a chance to score goals. We have fantastic players who score goals for us.”

The Blue Tigers have exhibited remarkable defensive stability and demonstrated sharpness in their attack. India has scored 14 goals in their last eight matches while also keeping clean sheets in each of these games. Samad has shared insights about the attacking mindset of the team under Stimac and the expectations he places on his players.

“The coach needs progressive football as much as possible, to move forward and try to score goals,” stated Samad.

Despite India playing a more attacking brand of football in recent times, there is a clear absence of a proper striker in the squad. The team's dependency on Sunil Chhetri for goal-scoring is evident, especially due to the unavailability of players like Manvir Singh, Sivasakthi Narayanan, and Ishan Pandita.

When questioned about this reliance on Chhetri for goals, Sahal said, “The coach has asked us to change that. We need to start scoring goals not just with one player, (obviously referring to Sunil Chhetri). We are happy to have him, and we have started the process. It will not change suddenly, but I think in the upcoming years, we can expect a change from the team, and currently, we are really happy with the way we are going."

He added: ”Chhetri, being the senior-most player and the captain of the side, has always been supportive towards other players."

Samad further highlighted the impact of Chhetri and highlighted the valuable guidance that he offers to his teammates, regardless of their experience or age.

“He advised every player; there is no particular player. He always encourages the players, even if it’s a youngster or maybe even Gurpreet Singh (Sandhu). He’s always there for everyone,” he added.

The midfielder has been operating as a link between the midfield and forward line and has performed well thus far, playing behind the Indian captain. Samad has opened up about his experience playing alongside the Indian captain and has also expressed his heartfelt gratitude towards him.

He said, “It’s amazing! I have learned many things from him regarding professionalism. In every aspect, he is the best example. I’m really happy to be here with him, and I hope I can play with him for many more years.”

The 26-year-old has now been deployed as a No.10 by coach Igor Stimac, a role to which he is more accustomed. This is the position in which he began his career with Kerala Blasters FC, and he has performed admirably for the national team as an attacking midfielder thus far.

He stated, “I started my career with Kerala Blasters FC in an attacking midfielder position, and now with the national team. Both coaches know how to use me better (chuckles).”