We’re ready to counter Lebanon’s physicality on the pitch: India head coach Igor Stimac
India head coach Igor Stimac is expecting another physical battle as his side takes the field against Lebanon in the Hero Intercontinental Cup final at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, on Sunday.
India head coach Igor Stimac is expecting another physical battle as his side takes the field against Lebanon in the Hero Intercontinental Cup final at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha on Sunday.
The Blue Tigers have been in a rich vein of form, winning two games and drawing one and have scored three goals and conceded none in their run to the final, sharing the spoils in a goalless draw with Lebanon in their final group stage game. When asked about any change in plans with respect to the draw, Stimac sounded confident and remained assured of the team’s confidence and composure in front of the goal.
“Same as before, it worked well for us besides not scoring. So, I don’t think we should change many things, we need lots of speed, we need players with lots of aggressiveness, energy, and those who are ready to respond to the physical game Lebanon brings to the pitch,” Stimac stated in the pre-match press conference.
The Blue Tigers have been effective in terms of creating chances but have been lacking the final punch in front of the goal. In numbers, the men in blue had four big chances on separate occasions in the game that they couldn’t convert.
“The instructions are always the same for our players when they are in front of the goal. Keep calm, (be) composed, and keep your eye on the ball. Make sure you hit the goal and don’t miss it but it’s still not happening,” Stimac uttered on players failing to convert their chances.
𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐅𝐈𝐍𝐀𝐋 𝐒𝐇𝐎𝐖𝐃𝐎𝐖𝐍! 👊— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 17, 2023
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The Blue Tigers faced a tough challenge against the higher-ranked Lebanon in the last game, and they will be eager to replicate another valiant effort in the final against the Cedars.
Stimac emphasised the quality possessed by the opposition but expressed his belief in the team's ability to fight together and secure victory in the final.
“They (Lebanon) have some great players in the team with international experience. Four or five of them have great experience playing in good leagues abroad. We can see that difference in the gameplay. We still need (time) to come to that line of quality. However, we did compete against that kind of quality as a unit (in the last match) and that’s what we are going to try in the final as well,” said Stimac.
“(Our approach will be) keeping tight defensive lines and pushing them away from our goal. But we won’t sit back because, with the individual quality they possess, they can easily harm us if we allow them to approach our goal,” he added.
The latest out of those four big chances was by Rahim Ali - who made a brilliant run, prancing through the defenders to correctly pick out Anirudh Thapa’s perfectly weighted through ball, but the striker went for a pass instead of going for the goal resulting in the chance being wasted.
Shedding light on the situation, the Croatian issued a rallying call towards the supporters to single out and criticise Ali but rather back every player representing the team.
“People are getting angry with Rahim Ali. If you want our strikers to rise up, we need to support them when they are getting the chance. Nobody is saying that Rahim Ali made a perfect — and he’s the only one who’s doing that — one-touch back-pass and an unbelievable run between the centre-backs where he put himself in a brilliant position to score the goal. He didn’t score, he was even thinking about passing the ball to the player on the other side for scoring,” he said.
“Be supportive to these boys, don’t judge them, don’t accuse them, don’t speak bad about them, they need to rise up. The only way they can rise up is by the time given in the national team to improve themselves and in their respective clubs. Get behind these boys, they deserve it and let’s take the positives they are doing on the pitch instead of just talking about the negative points. You will help them a lot in that way, you will make them more secure in front of the goal when they see that they have your support,” he added.
With the Indian team bound to play their fourth game in the span of 10 days, rest and recovery will be critical as the side begin with the SAFF Championships in the next five days. Stimac provided a fresh update on injured striker Ishan Pandita, and forward Ashique Kuruniyan.
“I need to say, I feel sorry that we had trouble with (Ishan) Pandita. I had lots of expectations from him but in the second week of training sessions, he clashed with Sandesh (Jhingan) and pulled his hamstring muscle and we cannot risk his injury because it takes a minimum of four weeks to recover. But he could’ve been a great asset for us in the sense of scoring, maybe coming on in the last 30 minutes or even starting the game in certain situations,” he said.
Custodian Amrinder Singh accompanied Stimac in the pre-match press conference. The 30-year-old started in goal against Lebanon in the last game and delivered a stellar performance, making some outstanding saves to secure another clean sheet for his team.
Singh shared his thoughts on the team's approach for the final and also revealed his understanding with the two centre backs Jhingan and Ali.
“I always believe that in finals or big games, (you need to) play as simple as you can. It's important to provide correct information to your defence, organize the team and most importantly, the team that makes fewer mistakes (usually) wins the final. (Our) focus should be on doing the basics right and avoid (doing) anything extra,” said the goalkeeper.
“I have played two games with Sandesh (Jhingan) and Anwar (Ali) in front of me, and they have given me a lot of confidence. Whenever I pass on any information (to them), they listen very carefully, so it becomes easy for me to play with them,” he concluded.