Stimac hails his players’ character ahead of crunch clash against Oman

India take on Oman at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex Stadium in Muscat on Tuesday in a crunch Group E tie in their FIFA World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 joint qualifiers. India currently sit fourth in the group and need a win to keep their qualification hopes alive. Oman, meanwhile, got the better of India in their previous clash in the group and will be looking to do the same in front of their home fans.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference, head coach Igor Stimac insisted that his side must respect Oman but still go out to get a win, “In football, whenever you go to play the game, you go to win it, and that is why we are here. We have respect for the Oman side which is very strong. We faced them in the first match in Guwahati. They showed their capacity and played really good football. I just hope that we can play a good game of football because football is what brings people together.”

India’s last two qualification games have seen them score two late goals to draw against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Elaborating on the mentality of his players and their never-say-die attitude, the Croatian said, “In football, the game is played for 90 to 95 minutes. The players need to be prepared to score goals as well as concede at any moment. In recent history, India found it hard to come back from a negative result. The last two games, everyone expected us to win, which added to the pressure on the team. We were strong enough to come back very late and it shows the character we are building. It makes me happy as a coach because it means I have chosen the right players with good character, attitude and resistance.”

“Honestly, I think we played better against the other teams rather than Qatar. They say that the biggest achievement in Indian football was gaining the point against Qatar in Doha. I don’t agree that we played the best game there. If you compare the quality of the games we played, we were much better against Oman, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. But we did not get the points that we expected. That was the difference,” he added.

The Blue Tigers have three points from their four games in Group E so far and when asked for his thoughts on his side’s qualification chances, the Croat said, “We all knew that Qatar and Oman were favourites (to qualify) in this group when the Qualifiers started. I joined the team at the end of May with the task of restructuring the team, improving certain points of India’s game and making sure in the future that India participates in the final stages of the Asian Cup, and hopefully World Cup 2026.”

Stimac continued: “We have improved a lot with regards to ball possession, creating chances and many other aspects. I consider us a team who is very difficult to beat. But we are still not the team who can say that we will definitely win, never mind who the opponent is. It takes time because football is a process.”

The 52-year-old asserted that patience will be required for Indian football to flourish in the future. “We have created a great environment around football in India, which was very needed. As representatives of Indian football, we have the responsibility of promoting football in our country. It’s a question of time before Indian football builds on the structured work we are providing. It will take time, investment, patience, education and coaching courses. In football, you cannot do things overnight, it’s a long process,” Stimac said.

Stimac also provided an update on centre-back Anas Edathodika, who has returned to the national setup. “He came back to serve his country (even after retirement) and I am happy as a coach to have players like him in our team.”

The gaffer was joined by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who was thrilled to be playing against his idol and Oman’s captain Ali Al-Hasbi, “I idolise him and I have trained with him as well. He is among the best people I know in football. He has provided great service for Oman. I wish him all the luck and I hope he does well in his career.”

“We have come here to play to the best of our capabilities. We are a tough team to play against. We need to go out there and make sure that we do our jobs. Oman are a difficult side to play against but in the recent years we have grown as well. We need to play to our full strengths and hope to get a result tomorrow,” the shot-stopper added on Tuesday’s clash.

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