India head coach Igor Stimac expects his team to perform at their best and deliver a win in their first game so as to set the tone for the rest of the campaign. 

Appreciative of the home advantage that playing at the Salt Lake Stadium will bring, the 54-year-old confessed it as one of the reasons for his side being favourites in the group and added that the players will build on the support from the fans in the stands, whom they will play in front of after a long gap of two years.

On the last climb in their pursuit to reach the summit, India face a tricky challenge in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, and face competition from their opponents. Placed alongside Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Hong Kong in Group D, the Indian men’s senior national team will kick off the contest against Cambodia at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, on Wednesday.

Prior to the commencement of the Cup Qualifiers, the Croatian head coach spoke to the ISL Media Team in an exclusive interview.

Here are the excerpts from the coach’s interview:

How crucial is it to having these three games at home, especially at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, where a lot of history is attached?

It should be helpful of course. But it can go the other way if we don’t succeed in the first game, but what I’m happy about being in Kolkata is that we wanted to be in this city because of the football history in this city, because of the support we are getting here time and again. So, we are expecting great crowds and great support from the stands.

We don’t need to hide from the fact that this city, this crowd, and the situation we are in is making us the favourite in the group. And we are here to prove that. 

How important is it to start the tournament on a positive note; and how strategically prepared is the team to face opponents with different playing styles?

It’s always difficult. The most important thing is to deliver a win out of the first game. It’s about gaining confidence which is needed for the remaining two games, it’s to prove that we obtained great work in the past six weeks which we are very confident about. And of course, there is a possibility that the first game will not go well, so, nothing will be determined because there are nine points to play for.

We are also expecting to have great supporters in the stands which is wonderful this time because we are getting to see them after so long. We’re also playing at home after such a long time and we expect our boys to handle the pressure from the stands, to enjoy the pressure from the stands, play wonderful football and win the game.          

The team is blended with youth and experience equally. How important is it to find the right balance to perform as a group and how important is it to qualify for the Asian Cup regularly as a country?

Finding the right balance of the team is the most important task for the coach because the national team, you don’t get enough playing time to find that balance. The boys come from different clubs, playing in different systems and I need to say that I’m happy this time that we had enough time to prepare although we are not with complete squad because of some injuries which have left few players out, but we do have others who are ready to replace them and to produce good football which will take us to the Asian Cup finals.

How much has the team come along since the time you took over in terms of levels of talent and the regular starters in the national team?

Three years ago, when we started this process, we were quite sure and it was clear that we needed to reconstruct the team because we wanted to play better football, more passing football. Having a clear idea on that, we need to improve on defensive shape, keeping the tight lines throughout the game, and that’s something we were quite successful at.

I need to say that, when we look today at the Indian men’s senior national team, we can see how many youngsters were developed through it, how many players we led to debut for the national team, giving them the chance to see how they can handle the international pressure, and to find out how they can prove themselves on such a higher level.