Narender, Mandar thankful to Stimac for their dream debut

It wasn’t the best of Sundays for Igor Stimac and his Blue Tigers. The squad had worked hard for around 10-12 days preparing for the 2019 Hero Intercontinental Cup and would have hoped to hit the ground running as soon as they took to the field against Tajikistan in their opening encounter. In fact, they did just that for 45 minutes, scoring two goals and playing a visibly attractive brand of football. However, as the Croatian pointed out after the eventual 4-2 loss, football’s a game of 90 minutes, and not 45.

Tajikistan stepped up the tempo in the second half, made better use of possession and effectively moved around the Indian midfield. The youngsters failed to keep up their shape, while also looking physically drained and tired. Nonetheless, there were innumerable positives for Stimac throughout the match. Sahal Abdul Samad was, once again, exceptional in the hole behind the striker and was pretty much at the heart of everything good the Blue Tigers did.

The performances of some of the debutants were another important takeaway for the Croatian. Both centre-back Narender Gahlot and FC Goa captain Mandar Rao Dessai started and played a vital role in helping the Blue Tigers keep the opposition out in the first half. Mandar was important at the other end as well, supplying the assist for Sunil Chhetri’s second.

The 27-year-old Gaur looked back on the result after the match and said in an interview to the official AIFF website, “The aim for any footballer is to play for the National team. It was a great feeling to make my debut. Now, I have to keep working hard and keep my place in the side. The coach believes in me a lot and I have to believe in myself too and keep going.”

He continued, “I am happy that I was able to grab an assist. The team had a great performance in the first half but what matters most is the final result. Now, we have to keep working and focus on the next game.”

Speaking specifically on the left-back’s performance on the night, Stimac said, “Mandar was good against Tajikistan. He is a great player who can do very well in the future for the National Team. He gives us more options in his position along with Subhasish (Bose) and Jerry (Lalrinzuala).”

Narender echoed similar feelings but accepted that he still has a lot to learn. “Wearing the India jersey was a special feeling. I was confident from the start but feel I could have done better in the second half. We made a few mistakes but now we are determined to get a good result in our next match against DPR Korea,” he stated.

The Indian boss, on the other hand, urged everyone to be patient with the Jamshedpur defender. “He is a very young boy. I did not want to risk playing Sandesh (Jhingan). But despite his absence, the defence was excellent in the first half. I am sure we will have three to four great defenders with time who can produce more clean sheets, as we did in Thailand.”

Finally, the 51-year-old hinted at more opportunities and game time for Justin. He said, “Jobby didn't play much against Tajikistan. But I must say I am happy with how he works on the training pitch. Everyone will get the chance to prove themselves in the coming games, including Jobby.”

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