Stimac: Match against UAE will be another very difficult test for our youngsters

The Indian national team’s second international friendly in March will see them face off against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on Monday. In their last international friendly against Oman on Thursday, the Blue Tigers earned a 1-1 draw. Head coach Igor Stimac addressed the media ahead of their next match and expects a tough challenge from UAE in the upcoming fixture.

“I expect UAE to be more difficult opponents [than Oman]. They are more technical than Oman, they play quicker football and put lots of high pressure on the opponents. This will be another very difficult test for our youngsters, but this is why we are here, to get experience out of these matches. To see what to expect from any of these boys who are here for the first time with us,” Stimac said.

In their last match, Oman looked like the better team in the first half and went in front before the halftime break following an unfortunate Amrinder Singh own goal. However, India was better in the second period and scored an equaliser through Manvir Singh, who headed in a Bipin Singh cross 10 minutes after the restart.

Sharing his thoughts on the result against Oman, Stimac said: “I would not say they were not courageous enough. As a team, as a unit we were far from our players, we didn’t control individually. They had lots of spaces to control the ball in holes, which created lots of problems for us in the first half. We all need to be happy about the result at the end because we bounced back against a really strong and competitive side.”

As many as 10 players made their debut for the Blues Tigers against Oman having been a part of Stimac’s 27-man squad following solid performances in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21. The Emerging Player of the League from last season Lalengmawia was one such player and the Croat confirmed that the young NorthEast United FC midfielder will be in the starting line-up against UAE.

“In Apuia [Lalengmawia], we have a young quality player in our team now. Rest of the boys who went on in the second half helped him a lot to organize the game. I can tell you Apuia will start the next game.”

He also heaped praise on Chinglensana Singh, who started in the back four alongside Sandesh Jhingan in the centre-half positions and made his debut for the Blue Tigers against Oman. “He [Chinglensana Singh] did really well, he was exceptional. I am very happy with his performance,” the 53-year-old said.

Stimac went on to reveal that Jhingan will not feature in the game against UAE with NorthEast United FC’s Mashoor Shereef and FC Goa’s Adil Khan in line for starting berths. “I can tell you now that Sandesh [Jhingan] is not involved in the next game because I need to see Mashoor [Shereef] and Adil [Khan] also,” he said.

Stimac was joined at the press conference by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who is looking forward to the upcoming match. “We are very keen on playing tomorrow again, against a very good side in UAE. It's a great challenge to be playing a team like UAE who have been doing well. It will be a good test for us, everyone wants to give everything and show what they have,” the 29-year-old said.

Gurpreet also offered some insight into the mood in the national camp ahead of the clash against UAE. “I think it’s good. Finally, some boys have played international football and now they know what the level is like,” he said.

While discussing his change in role in the national side after the influx of several new faces in the senior squad, Gurpreet added: “When I joined the national team, I was probably the youngest player and now I am on the other side. The most important lesson I have learnt from my seniors is to set a good example. I am enjoying that responsibility as well.”

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