Indian men’s senior national football team head coach Igor Stimac stated that the team deserved the win against Afghanistan as they dominated the game and showed their true colours in their second match of the third round of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata, on Saturday.

Stimac heaped praise on the collective effort put in by each player of the team, labelling the true fighting spirit of the players as the reason behind their triumph against the Lions of Khorasan.

Strikes from Sunil Chhetri with a sensational free-kick goal (85’) and Sahal Samad’s injury-time winner (90+2’) cancelled out Zubayr Amiri’s equaliser goal (88’) as the Blue Tigers take a step forward in their pursuit of reaching the finals of the Asian Cup. 

Match Report: Super sub Sahal Samad steals the show as India scrape past Afghanistan in a pulsating encounter

Igor Stimac's men will be back in action on Tuesday in the final match of their group stage against Hong Kong.

The 54-year-old addressed the media in the official post-match press conference.

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

What are your thoughts on the character of the team after a late comeback win?

In Saturday’s game, India was Blue Tigers as you call it. And I need to keep the tigers in our team because that is the way we’re headed forward. Going out, enjoying the football, fighting for your country with pride and honour. We will lose some games and we don’t worry about that, but as I said, I will mention one player I’m very proud of today because he faced lots of criticism and that’s Manvir [Singh].

He’s showing his responsibility in the team and making his name in Indian football and when I had to take him out in the first game after the first half, I was feeling a bit embarrassed as a coach. The reason being that he was not playing for his country the way he should, and I’m not talking about his technical abilities but his fighting spirit for the country, challenging the opponents, making centre-backs to feel your presence. And that’s what he’s done in the game against Afghanistan.

And his reaction [to the criticism he faced] was brilliant and I’m proud of him. I’m proud of our players who react in a positive way after facing criticism, and there are lots of talks, discussions, and analyses because when we get together, I’m utilising each second of our time because we don’t have much. They are under lots of pressure and are trying to create an environment where they can enjoy competition every day.

Two late goals and plenty of chances in the first half, what are your reactions to the game?

We think everyone who watched the game live at home, the ones who were in the stadium, all enjoyed the game, there was drama, there was plenty of quality football from both sides, not only from India. Many chances, with all 22 men fighting for each centimetre of the field. It was exciting, I don’t the last time I enjoyed such an exciting game.

And in the end, I think the reason for doubt is that we deserved to win this game with everything that we showed on Saturday, we showed character, we showed resilience, we showed willingness and good spirit on the pitch from the very first second. It was obvious that our boys were more than ready for such a difficult game especially after having such a result in the first game which was putting us under pressure.

There was no doubt that we were going home without a win in those 90 minutes. Yes, we had a few ups and downs during the game which is normal because no team can go with such a display like we did in the first 45 minutes. In the second half, there were a few 10 minutes where Afghanistan dominated, putting pressure on us. We were very patient with the changes, keeping in mind the injury situation of the players, but in the end I believe everything was done perfectly.

You played Liston Colaco in an unusual position today, in an attacking midfield role, and you also started Sahal very late. So, can you elaborate on that?

That was the best possible choice for us against Afghanistan because at this moment, Liston is our best player playing in the channels behind Sunil [Chhetri] and he is the one who shows up with quality in that position. He has the best quality to receive the ball with the back towards the opposition goalkeeper in that patch. He was brilliant in the first 45 minutes and was killing it.

Before the game, we had a plan to use Liston and Brandon [Fernandes], using each one of them for 45 minutes. It was a loss of energy from the first game and I didn’t want to risk any injuries to our players, to utilise them and play them efficiently, so we planned in that way. The plan with Sahal was the same, to bring on an energetic player and he did his job well.

What did you make up of Ashique Kuruniyan’s performances tonight?

Not only him but everyone was wonderful tonight. Roshan [Singh], Akash [Mishra], Anwar Ali, then Sandesh [Jhingan] as the leader. Suresh (Singh) and Jeakson (Singh) as well. Jeakson was having fun playing football today. We have some wonderful young players who are growing and have enough experience. That's a treasure for India. I don't think we can say that in previous years India's games were enjoyable, but now they are.