Vietnam is in the sights for the Blue Tigers, and their head coach Igor Stimac is one who is upbeat about India’s two matches against the hosts and Singapore. The Indian Football fans of yesteryears will remember the famous moment exactly two decades ago when a U-23 Indian team clinched victory in the LG Cup, a senior tournament.
While that memorable moment was 20 years ago, the Blue Tigers will go to the Hung Thinh Friendly Football Tournament full of confidence, and on a three-match winning streak.
“We are definitely capable of winning the tournament, but I think it’s the small things that will decide who wins it,” said India head coach Igor Stimac. “Obviously, Vietnam have a lot of momentum with their performances in the last couple of years. They have a good team and are playing at home, which is why they are probably the favourites, but we also have a good chance as we have a young squad.
I think we have enough quality to match them, and if we stay positive and play with a good mindset, we can do it,” he continued.
While the confidence in the squad is high, Stimac was wary of the fact that most of his players are still in a pre-season mode right now, and that rotation would be the order of the day for the Blue Tigers.
“It’s a good challenge for us, though we need to make sure that we combine and rotate our players in a proper way. We need to make sure that nobody gets injured, because most of the players we have are still in pre-season mode, and they need to be nurtured,” said Stimac. “We need to be careful because we are facing two sides that are in full swing competitions.”
However, the Indian Football Team has enough momentum to not be too worried about that, feels the 55-year-old.
“With regards to the momentum that we have after the June AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers (India beat Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong in back-to-back matches), the optimism is high and the positiveness which currently surrounds the team should only bode well for us.”
While a couple of new faces are currently in the Blue Tigers squad, the head coach has not closed the doors on any player that is not with the team currently. It is more a matter of trying out various systems with a pool of around 40 players, in preparation for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
“Nobody has been excluded. My actual list contains of 40 players, and it is just because to the situation of the tournament that I can only choose 23 of them. My technical staff and I felt that this set of players were the best suited and most compatible for the two upcoming matches,” the 55-year-old said. “This is how we learn more about the players. Of course, I had meetings with all my players before this, I had communicated to them as to why we are going with this current list. Everyone who is not on the list knows why he aren’t on it. But everyone is preparing for March.”
The Blue Tigers have always been building towards the future, and that is something that will put them in good stead, feels Stimac.
“I am very happy that over the last three and a half years, we have fulfilled the goals that were there in front of us. And with I’m sure we made everyone happy with the qualifiers in June with our style of play and the mindset that we showed in the game,” he said. “The confidence with which they played, especially the youth, gives us a lot of hope. Most of our boys are around 22 years old right now. In a few years, they will be 25 years old, with a vast array of International experience, and that will only help India further.”
While the coach took pride in the performances of the youngsters in the squad, he also outlined the importance of building the core strength of the players in order to do well on the international stage.
“I am so proud of the boys and the individual goals that they have achieved – more than 90 per cent of them needed to be given individual programmes because they did not have any,” informed Stimac. “It was very important that we worked on the muscle strength of the boys in the squad. If we look at the boys from Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Australia, there’s always such a big difference and technical ability means nothing these days if you don’t have power.”
The Indian Football Team leaves for Vietnam on Tuesday, September 20, 2022, from Kolkata, and will travel to Ho Chi Minh City, where they will participate in the Hung Thinh Friendly Football Tournament.