With an eye on the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, India men’s National Football Team’s head coach Igor Stimac stated that he has been following Hero Indian Super League (ISL) closely and is keen to gauge the new crop of players that have emerged this season.

“I have been watching every single game and admiring the boys for giving everything they have for their clubs. It’s been terrible for everyone involved since the pandemic started, but the job needs to be done,” Stimac was quoted as saying by Press Trust of India.

Last week, it was announced that Kolkata will host the Group D of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers where India will go up against Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and Cambodia. In the build-up to its preparations, India is set to play friendlies in March against Belarus and Bahrain where Stimac will be able to closely examine the potential where they will be put to test.

“Some new players emerged this season and most probably I will have a closer look at some of them in the upcoming camp in March. We will only be able to gauge their maturity when we get a chance to play international matches,” said Stimac.

Realising that football suffered due to the pandemic, Stimac appreciated how Hero ISL managed itself to keep the show running under difficult circumstances.

“At the same time, we need to commend the super organisational capabilities of the two leagues being held simultaneously under current circumstances - that too when footballing activities all over have stumbled a bit,” added Stimac.

India has now turned its focus towards the broader dream of reaching the FIFA World Cup, however, Stimac believes AFC Asian Cup Finals is the first step to this goal.

“One needs to look at the broader dream — and that is to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. But it can only be achieved step by step.

Qualifying and playing regularly at the AFC Asian Cup finals, and doing well there is a must for us if we are to achieve our ultimate dream of qualifying for the World Cup," Stimac said.