Indian men’s senior national team head coach Igor Stimac has warned his side not to underestimate their opponents Pakistan due to their low FIFA ranking. The Blue Tigers square off against their neighbouring rivals in their SAFF Championship 2023 opener at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Wednesday.

Tucked alongside other neighbour Nepal and debutants Kuwait — who have been formally invited to participate — in Group A, Stimac feels each team brings about their unique identity in the group, and that will make for an interesting clash among all four teams.

“As far as I'm concerned, our group, all four teams, have something special. We are all very different. So each game will be incredibly different. I believe that the crowd will enjoy it, everyone who follows football, who loves football will see lots of good games,” Stimac stated in the pre-match press conference.

Match Preview - SAFF Championship 2023: India take on Pakistan in the opening game

Having won back-to-back titles in the Hero Tri-Nation International Cup followed by the Hero Intercontinental Cup, the Blue Tigers have been on an incredible unbeaten run of six games, registering a clean sheet in each of those six games. Their 2-0 victory over Lebanon in the final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup was their first one in 46 years. 

Record eight-time winners of the SAFF Championship and favourites for the tournament, Stimac is aware of his side’s recent successes and asserted that they are still far away from what he envisages the team to be. 

“The mood in the camp is brilliant after winning the Intercontinental Cup tournament. Every single second spent in Odisha (Bhubaneswar) helped us a lot to come to a point where we can say we can be happy with the performances. But the first step is to come to a certain point when you're going to be happy about your players. The second step is to repeat that game after game. So that's much more difficult,” the head coach said. 

“So we can expect some drops of form in certain positions until we get to a point where we can expect all our players to keep consistency, to keep the level of performance very high, which is really important for me as a coach,” he added.

As far as the rivalry between India and Pakistan goes, it is never just about the rankings or the form of the team. Ranked 195 in the FIFA rankings, the Pakistani Falcons are the lowest ranked team on the grid. Stimac, however, refused to accept their ranking as a way to assess the team and laid emphasis on the quality of players who have been playing abroad in the European leagues.

“Forget the rankings. I watched Pakistan's last match against Kenya and they were better than Kenya (Pakistan lost 1-0) away from home. They created better chances, they were more aggressive, and obviously, they are defending deeper, but from deeper positions, they come straight forward with quality. They have six, seven players who are developed abroad. Two players play in England, one in Denmark in the first tier. So let's not mislead the public please. Let's not speak about rankings. We have a very serious group here, very serious competition,” Stimac expressed. 

“We are preparing really wide and deep for all of them because they might be the surprise of the tournament. For some people who might be underestimating their quality, unity, and compactness that they have shown although they didn’t get the results, they are a very good team. They have their weaknesses but they have a certain quality in their game which we need to tackle and that’s how we are going to approach this game,” he concluded.