Stimac: Aware of Qatar’s quality but we cannot give up
Following the disappointing loss against Oman, Igor Stimac’s Blue Tigers will aim to get their qualification campaign back on track when they face reigning Asian Champions, Qatar at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday. The match will be India’s second Group E fixture in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
Stimac and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu were present at the pre-match press conference held a day prior to the fixture. The Indian boss began by shedding light on the team's preparations and said, "We didn’t have much time to prepare for Qatar game because all our concentration was on Oman. We know that Qatar at the moment is far in front of other teams in Asia."
“They proved that at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, winning it in a fantastic manner. They had a wonderful tournament in South America. They have improved rapidly. We were trying to give everything we had in Oman game and were just resting and refreshing our players for Qatar match. So, nothing special from a preparation point of view," he added.
Sharing his thoughts on the tough test against Qatar – a team placed 41 places above India in the current FIFA rankings, Stimac said, "In football, everything is possible. You cannot give up and good things will happen. I know the Qatari team very well and they are becoming very strong. Their physical strength is great, and their technical capabilities and movements are fantastic. It’s difficult to find any weak points."
The recently-turned 52-year-old then looked back at the brief time in charge of the Blue Tigers to assess how far the team have come. "It’s still early days for me. But we spent 30 days working and practising on the training pitch. The rest of our work was involvement in tournaments, King’s Cup in Thailand and the Hero Intercontinental Cup. So, we didn’t have much time to work together. As a coach, I’m very happy with how my players performed, how quick they learn because it was not easy to change the way of playing. India before used to play a different style of football. Now we are insisting on more passing, more movement, more technical points in the game," he stated,
Analysing the team’s showing in the Oman fixture, the Croat said, "We did fantastically well against Oman. We had better possession on the ball, moving it well, creating chances. Still, experience is missing. That will come with the games. We are a very young team but I am very confident that together we can do this work in a very good way. For me, as a coach, it matters if the supporters are happy with what they are seeing from our team. After the Oman game, everything was positive. As a coach, they make me proud."
Asked about how he planned on integrating some of the young strikers and possibly reduce the burden on Sunil Chhetri, Stimac remarked, "We do have young talent strikers. As a coach of the national team, I just hope that they will play more at their respective clubs. I was not disappointed at the end of the day against Oman, I was upset. I cannot expect much more from my team. I cannot expect them to do brilliantly well for 95 minutes."
Quizzed about his expectations from the match and in extension the qualifiers, Stimac said, "Football is a game where you can’t expect miracles to happen all the time. We are working on stabilising our game. Working with young players.”
Gurpreet, on his part, expressed unhappiness at the Oman result but seemed fairly excited at the prospect of facing the Asian Champions. "I think not getting the desired result was disappointing for us, but as a player you have to move on and look at the next challenge, and I’m pretty sure all the team members are looking forward to this great opportunity to play against Qatar, who are a very good side,” said Sandhu.
Read the Match Preview here.