Stimac wants players to express themselves on the pitch against Oman

The Indian national team mark their long-awaited return to international football on Thursday when they take on Oman at the Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. Thursday’s clash against Oman will be the Blue Tigers’ first match since November 2019 and they will be eager to give a good account of themselves having lost the previous two meetings against them. The upcoming encounter between the teams will see a new-look Indian side in action after plenty of youngsters broke into the team on the back of strong Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 campaigns. 

India’s head coach Igor Stimac is viewing the upcoming friendlies -- against Oman and the UAE (on March 29) -- as a fresh start for his team. “As a national coach, every match is a new beginning. But in this case, it has been difficult, we had big plans for the past season but all plans were destroyed by the pandemic. So, we start from scratch against Oman,” he said at the pre-match press conference.

Stimac hopes that some of the new faces in the squad can use the friendlies as a chance to settle into the side. “There are many players who are with us for the first time and are very young. Obviously, we are not going to put all of them to play at the same time, we are not going to take such a risk. We need to be very careful with them. They are our future. We need to rely on them, they have showed in the past seasons that they can play good football... I hope they will use this chance to settle better and this will boost their confidence,” he said.

When asked about the previous two clashes against Oman, Stimac revealed: "When I looked back at earlier matches, I cried a few times. That first match was crucial, that match was going to determine whether we are going to fight for first two positions in the group [and qualify for next round]. As it happened, with bad luck or inexperience in such important games, we fell down and that was something I always cry about. I felt sorry, not for myself because I have faced similar situations during my career, but for the players."

The Croat went on to stress that results aren’t as important as India’s young squad gaining valuable experience in these two games. “I was very excited watching the [Hero] ISL last season and seeing so many young players coming through well, developing their game and not having any fear making decisions and doing really well... To answer what we are expecting from the upcoming two games is that I expect our players to get more experience, no more than that. We are not obsessed with the results,” Stimac said.

While expanding on his demands from his players in the clash against Oman, Stimac added: “What I want from the players is to have the freedom to express themselves on the field and not to feel any kind of pressure. Getting experience from such games is the most important thing for them at the moment. I think it is going to be an interesting game. We have seen Oman play and they are a really physical side, well-organised and they are patient in their game. So, we need to find a way to match that style.”

The 53-year-old was joined by defender Sandesh Jhingan, who expressed his pride at being part of the national team once again after an injury layoff. “Really happy [to be back with the national team]. It is the greatest honour for any footballer or for any human being when you get a chance to represent your nation. if you ask Oman or the UAE, they consider us as tough opponents... That shows how far we have come. The more we play against them, the more confidence we get and they also get confidence. So, it is a win-win situation for both teams to play friendlies and get ready for major tournaments,” he said.

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