India head coach Igor Stimac believes his team are fully prepared and is hopeful of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup finals as they take on Cambodia in the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Wednesday.

Stimac warned of complacency given that India are the favourites and the highest ranked team in the group, and stated that he doesn’t his players want to get too ahead of themselves with the only focus being on the opponent they are up against.

Ahead of the highly-anticipated opening match of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers against Cambodia, the Croatian head coach addressed the media during an official pre-match press conference.

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

Playing against a 171st ranked Cambodia is an easy opening game. What are your expectations from the opponent?

I don’t look at the rankings and Cambodia didn’t come here just to participate. They came here with the same desire, to win the games. When India were 184 and 150, India did not go to participate, they did not go to lose, they went to win games. I will never say we’re going to be beating anyone easily. Because that wouldn’t do good in motivational aspect for my team. We need to be hungry for this and we need to be ready, we need to be fully motivated.

And if you are preparing your team to go out and play an easy game, to get an easy win, it will never happen. Today, football doesn’t bring easy games. I am sorry. It doesn’t bring easy games anymore. There is a very small margin of difference in the quality and that makes a difference. Do you score or don’t? That's what makes the difference. If you open up the scoring early that makes your opponents very nervous. And that changes everything - mindset, confidence and result. So let’s look at football from a very realistic point.

What are your expectations from the fans since all the matches are being held at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata?

We’re expecting the fans to come in numbers, to extend their support to the national team, to push boys to their extra strength for their legs, for their hearts and for their mindset. With them in the stands, it would bring us extra joy.

Once again, I appreciate the fans because the last time out, they cheered for us in huge numbers and supported the team with all their passion, bringing in a huge motivation factor for the players to push themselves on the pitch every minute.

We’ve seen the players play in a certain way under you which has been very different from how it has been in the past. You are playing against a team which is significantly ranked lower, so would there be a changed approach in the team’s style of play?

We prepare ourselves even in the worst case scenarios, to press from the first minute of the game or to even press under high pressure. Nothing to hide about that, we need to prove that we are the favourites in the group, we need to control the game, we need to be ready for the opponent’s style of play, and just be ready for whatever comes in front of us.

In the last three games, India has been able to score only once. Are you satisfied with the striking force in the team?

For us, in the team, and as a coach, it doesn’t matter who scores, it’s important that we score whenever we play. We need to score against better playing teams like Jordan, Bahrain, Belarus who are very physical, good technical sides, much better than us at the moment which we need to accept. You don’t expect to create many chances but we created chances against each one of these teams.

Of course, Sunil [Chhetri] was not with us at that time and that was one of the reasons but also we don’t have enough quality in our side to score in such games. We have young players who can play under the pressure here at the international level and if they can’t do that, we have to start pushing these young players earlier so they can mature and produce results that are most needed at the moment. So, it is a work which takes time and if we’re patient with it, we’ll surely get better with it.

India concede regularly in the closing minutes of the game. Are you worried about that?

No, I’m not worried about that for a simple reason. We are still in the process of preparation prior to the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers and the players are not fully prepared to adapt to the process. Now, when we are at the end of our preparations, we should be more concentrated, we should be having more strength in our legs to handle the game for the full 90 minutes.

That’s how we set ourselves up, to find out where we stand at the moment, to find out what level of game we’re playing, and how we can outdo ourselves in the next stage. I’m never worried about these friendly games, all I can say is that, I’m less worried than you. You guys see the results but we use these games to advance the level of our game, it’s a learning process. For us, it’s more important how we are developing ourselves and performing in the official games.