Indian National Football Team head coach Igor Stimac expressed concern with the team's defence as the Blue Tigers look forward to their final group stage fixture against Syria in the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on Tuesday. 

Stimac’s men have failed to get the desired results so far albeit producing good performances against Australia and Uzbekistan in Group B. Conceding two defeats in two matches, they sit at the bottom of the table being the only team to have no points. 

The head coach expressed concern over the backline of the Blue Tigers as they have conceded five goals already in their opening two fixtures with two coming against Australia and three against Uzbekistan.  

Pinpointing the issue, Stimac said, “The point which I am not happy about and not satisfied with is the defensive shape and reactions inside the box. Marking inside the box hasn't been good enough and that caused us lots of problems.”

“It’s clearly showing that things need to be changed there, that awareness needs to be at a higher level when the cross is from the opponent player coming to our box, but especially the second balls, our reactions are late on these second balls. We have been working on that lately so hopefully we are going to improve there,” he added.

The 56-year-old acknowledged the physical strength of Syria and expects the challenge to be just as hard as the last two matches. 

“Syria is a very similar team to Uzbekistan with several experienced players coming from top tier divisions and based on experience I would say, physical side, playing in classical 4-4-2, strong boys upfront, good holding the ball, some nice good young talented players there in the squad also. You can see the way they move, they keep the shape, how strong they come forward, how they hold the ball. That’s a very serious team. So the challenge for us will not be less than in the first two games,” stated Stimac in the pre-match press conference. 

Sharing the philosophy that he has tried instilling in his men, Stimac added, “But as I say to my boys, when you fight against the physical sides, the best way of fighting is escape from duels and contacts with quick passing and moving. We are capable of doing that, so, we just need to see how focused we going to be tomorrow and whether are we going to use our chances more importantly are we going to strengthen our backline with more determination, more focus and more quick decision-making inside the box about man to man marking.” 

Captain Sunil Chhetri accompanied Stimac to the press conference. Sharing his experience playing in three different editions of the Asian Cup, in 2011, 2019 and 2023, the Indian veteran believes that the Blue Tigers keep getting better with each edition. 

He shared, “I think a small but very important difference between all these three editions is, as a team, we are more prepared, have more knowledge than what we had before. I think we feel more comfortable to be in the Asian Cup now as compared to the last ones.”

The Blue Tigers are yet to score in the tournament and would want to end that run if they ae to harbour hopes of reaching the next round. 

“India and I haven’t scored and that’s a problem. We are working really hard to fix that. It’s not that we go into a game thinking that we don’t want to score. It is not easy, although we had chances more against Uzbekistan than we had against Australia," he said. 

“But, I can assure you, we haven’t scored not because of want interest or will, but because it wasn’t easy and also we did miss some chances. Even in the last Uzbekistan game, Rahul’s header, Mahesh’s shot, my deflection. The same chances they got and they went in. So, this is the margin that you have in a big tournament. Come Syria, I hope we can fix this problem and the next time I see you, you can say we did score for India," he added.