Stimac: No one is unbeatable if you believe in your abilities

The Indian football team is due to kickstart their FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers campaign against Oman at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday. With qualifications in both the World Cup 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup 2023 at stake, the Blue Tigers will be eager to make a positive start in their Group E encounter. But it's easier said than done considering India have won one, lost four and drawn twice against Oman in the past. The two teams last met in a friendly back in December 2018 and the match ended in a goalless draw.

A day before the crunch fixture, Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac and senior player Sunil Chhetri addressed the media at the pre-match press conference. "The game tomorrow is very important for the team and the people of India. It is very encouraging to hear that we may have a full house backing us for the match. I am very happy with the preparations and delighted at the improvements the players achieved in their conditioning, fitness levels and overall understanding of the game," Stimac mentioned in his opening statement.

Chhetri gave an insight into the mood in the camp ahead of the tie and said, "We are really looking forward to the match. Everyone is fit and hungry. We had a lot of time to gel and get accustomed to the coach's philosophy. Everyone is eager to go on and play."

Stimac has been experimenting a lot with his first XI in the previous matches, but with the crunch qualifier in focus, the Croat stated that he has zeroed in on his go-to starting line-up. "We have a very clear idea about the starting XI that we will field tomorrow. It has been the same for the past seven or so days. The rest of the players are also there ready and fit to contribute. However, each of the players who have been involved in the past few campaigns are important for the future of the team. With the Hero ISL starting soon, we have to keep a close eye on their performances and follow their progress closely.

Asked about his biggest challenges for the upcoming two qualifiers against Oman and Qatar on September 10, Stimac said, "One of the difficulties have been injuries. Jeje Lalpekhlua, for example, is yet to play under me because of injuries. We miss him and we wish he recovers and comes back soon. We also had some injuries during the Hero Intercontinental Cup."

Will miss Amarjit’s tenacity: Chhetri

One player India will be missing against Oman will be midfielder Amarjit Singh, who is out with a hand injury. The youngster has been a revelation for the national team since getting his debut during the King's Cup. Emphasising the impact of his absence, Chhetri said, "He has been a livewire for us. He is someone who gives it all. If you tell him to fight for the ball for three hours, he will do it. The energy rubs onto everyone around him. We will really miss him. I hope he recovers soon."

Picking up from where Chhetri left off, Stimac added, "Young players bring in the fight, freshness and motivation to the game. I am very proud of them. We need to believe in Indian football and now we have something we can build on. We have Amarjit, Narender Gahlot, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad. We need to believe that when Sunil leaves, which I hope won't happen in the next few years, we have players who can step up."

Focus on youth: Stimac

Transitioning to his vision for the team on the long run, the 1998 World Cup semifinalist said, "We have tried to introduce many young players in the national team. It signals a bright future and it is something we can build on and have great hopes about. Results are important, but I am more concerned about what I leave behind when I leave here. The players are working hard and enjoying their football. They are improving every aspect of their game. We are now at a point where he have a game which can speed up the progress of Indian football. If we win tomorrow, we are on the right path."

We are developing the Indian style of football: Stimac

In the last few matches, the Indian backline has looked somewhat shaky, conceding a lot of goals. Enquired if it was an area which concerned him, Stimac responded, "We conceded some silly goals, which was also the case earlier. But if you see, we have been playing against better teams like Thailand, Syria etc and we showed that we can handle good teams and can play as an organized unit. It will be a tough game against Oman and I hope we can put on an organized performance not only in defence but all over the pitch."

Stimac was then asked how successful he has been in bringing in the Croatian philosophy of football he has grown up with into Indian football. In response, the 51-year-old said, "I am not implementing the Croatian style of football. I am trying to build up the Indian players to play the Indian style of football. I don't believe you can try and bring in a style from another country and try to implement it. Everyone would like to play possession-based technical football and create a lot of chances. But when you face a strong team you cannot do that. We need to adapt to different styles of playing."

"If you firmly believe in your abilities, there is no one out there who is unbeatable. You need to be organized, wise and defend well," he added.

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