Want the team to show same hunger against Hong Kong as they did against Afghanistan: India head coach Igor Stimac

 

Indian men’s senior national football team head coach Igor Stimac is confident of his side’s determination and hunger to win their upcoming game, as they face Hong Kong in the final group stage clash in round three of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday.

Stimac believes his team’s display of grit in their previous game against Afghanistan will set a precedent and hold them well in the future. The 54-year-old also added that the Blue Tigers need to be far-sighted of the threat posed by Hong Kong, labelling the side as a quality one, crediting the side for topping the group as things stand.

Ahead of an all-important clash against Jorn Andersen’s men, the Blue Tigers’ manager addressed the media during the official pre-match press conference.

Here are the excerpts from the coach’s press conference:

You’re facing Hong Kong in the final group stage match. With what strategy will you go into the match?

We need to complement Hong Kong for what they’ve shown in their first two games and deservedly they’re leading the group at the moment because they have a better goal difference. They are a well organised, disciplined side with enough quality to defend as well as attack, but we’ve studied their strengths and weaknesses, and we know what we need to do to win this game.

Of course, this game is equally important as the previous two games, there is less pressure obviously but not less hunger and motivation for us to go out, start from the very first minute as we did against Afghanistan and do everything to win this game.

How does the team recover and stay focused for the game on Tuesday after a gap of two days?

Recovery process does not change. It’s about the fitness level of each player and speed of recovery they need until the next game comes. After Monday’s practice session and Tuesday morning’s screening, we’ll see where we stand and who we will start [the game] with, which is really important because we need fresh legs.

You played Liston [Colaco] in a different role against Afghanistan. Do you think there is another aspect to his game that we haven’t seen yet? And how do you see him in that role going forward?

As far as I’m concerned, Liston can play in any position in this front four, in terms of a 4-2-3-1 formation. He can be the one behind the striker, he can play centre-forward, and can play on the left-wing or right-wing. But Liston is that kind of a player who enjoys freedom in his game, he loves finding the channels and spaces where he can receive the ball and immediately turn and attack.

At this stage, it’s important for him to release the ball earlier and keep running into spaces without the ball rather than getting past 3-4 players with the ball. He is different, he is the one we expect to shine more and more in the future. His defensive commitment for us in the last couple of games is something we’re proud of. You could see how much he was sprinting back after losing the ball and then going to attack once again.

If India does qualify for the finals of Asian Cup, how important will it be for the players considering there’s a longer football season ahead? And how will it help the players ahead of club football?

It might be very crucial. That’s what we were hoping to happen when I took up the job, we started creating the roadmap to structure it in such a way. There are plenty of things happening behind the scenes which you are not aware of but you can see only when the results come in certain areas.

Certain performances go and define a team. So, do you think the performance in the last game can do the same for the Indian team because of the fight they showed ?

That should be the starting point of each of our future games. Whenever we’ll prepare for the upcoming games, I will remind our boys about the attitude, hunger, and passion with which they started the game against Afghanistan. It needs to be the talking point before each game, with the same aggression, passion, attitude, and showing a tiger heart. To come on the pitch as tigers, to behave as tigers, and to show to everyone that we have big hearts and we’ll fight you, irrespective of the opponent we play.

It must be easier to motivate the junior players when a calibre like Sunil Chhetri’s is present in the team, isn’t it?

Of course, that’s why he is so modest. He’s so important for these boys. I won’t let him go before he gets his goalscoring tally to a minimum of 100 goals. So, you have to stop asking about his retirement, he won’t retire before he scores at least 100 goals.

Secondly, I remember how Roger Milla [former Cameroon international] scored his first World Cup goal at the age of 38. Somehow it’s reminding me of something that will come up soon and I’d love to see us there, with Sunil with us, and getting that feeling at the end of his playing days. And he can do it, I’m sure of it, his muscles, his body, his commitment, his passion, everything is possible to keep him with us as long as we can. And you do the same, by not asking the question of his retirement.

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