We’re expecting to win the tournament, that’s why we’re here, asserts Igor Stimac
The India boss also revealed that he isn’t taking this tournament as a preparation for the Asian Cup.
India kickstart their 2023 Hero Intercontinental Cup campaign when they host Mongolia on June 9 at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. This will be the first time that India hosts this competition since 2019 and the first-time ever that the Kalinga Stadium plays host to such a tournament.
Igor Stimac using this competition as Asian Cup preparation?
Head coach Igor Stimac is pleased that the matches are finally here after many weeks of preparation, as he expressed his feelings for this tournament, saying: “After three weeks of hard work and sweat and suffering, finally the games are here. We’re very excited to host this tournament. We’re looking forward to start winning games and representing India in a quality way. We’re expecting to win the tournament, that’s why we’re here. We’ll do everything to achieve it.”
When asked how he wishes to use this tournament as a possible preparation for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, the Croatian mentor explained: “I’ll try to use these upcoming games in the best way to prepare for the Asian Cup. These games will serve as a challenge for our players to prove their ability at the international level, even though the opponents are not the ones we’ll face in the Asian Cup.
“But they’re good and competitive. Mongolia are very competitive, and aggressive and have so many youngsters in midfield and upfront. They play an aggressive style of football with high press and counter-attacking football, so no games are easy. Each game is a great challenge for any of our players who are here to prove that they deserve their position in the national team,” he added.
Mongolia not to be taken for granted
Stimac is definitely not taking the challenge of facing Mongolia lightly despite their position in the FIFA rankings. He stated: “I just said that each game will be a challenge, starting from the first game. We can speak about advantages or disadvantages, but we had enough time to prepare and are physically ready for these games. The less good thing for us is that our players are not in the competitive month, because most stopped playing competitive football a few months ago. ISL finished a long time ago, some weren’t involved in football for months and the whole process started for them when the national team started training.
“On the other side, you have Mongolian players who only have one individual playing in the foreign club – while the rest are playing in their own league, which is still ongoing. So this is an advantage for them at the moment. We need to eliminate that advantage with our attitude, physicality ability, our speed and our technicality to control the game from the beginning. We must take everything in our hands and find a way to get a victory,” the tactician also stated.
Can home advantage be a boost for India?
Igor Stimac believes that India can benefit from having home advantage in the Hero Intercontinental Cup after impressing in the Hero Tri-Nation Friendly Tournament in Manipur. He explained: “Firstly, we’re playing with a home-ground advantage. We have a big number of supporters to cheer us which will be an advantage to us. You saw that clearly in Manipur – when we are surrounded with loving and passionate supporters, we can defeat better-ranked teams in competitive games. We have many advantage in our favour in this tournament and I hope that Mongolia will one day have great facilities in their country as we have here in Odisha.”
Not proper preparations for Asian Cup!
Finally, Stimac expressed why he doesn’t feel that the Hero Intercontinental Cup will not be a true sense of preparation for the Asian Cup due to India missing some key players. He revealed: “To clarify, we cannot say that this tournament is proper preparation for the Asian Cup. Because it really isn’t. You know we don’t have seven first-team players here for various injury issues. At least two of them are going to be in the starting XI for the Asian Cup, like Brandon (Fernandes) and Manvir (Singh).
“So, how do we start preparing for the Asian Cup when they aren’t with us? So we just hope that they come back in the best possible way with their strength for the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) season and then we can start preparations for the Asian Cup from September onwards,” he finished with.
Sunil Chhetri on playing in Odisha for the first time
Sunil Chhetri expressed his surprise that India hasn’t played a competitive game in Odisha in the past and is excited to play in the Kalinga Stadium. He said: “I think we’re all very excited to play here. It’s strange that our team in the last five years or even in my entire international career, we’ve never played anywhere in Odisha with the national team. We’re very happy with the hospitality, the training pitches and where we’re staying. Everything has been top-notch. We’ve made good use of the last three weeks with decent hospitality and we can’t wait to start the tournament. Hopefully we play not just three games, but four.”
How Chhetri tries to be a positive influence for young players
When asked about how he tries to be a positive influence for the young players in the Indian squad, Chhetri explained: “I genuinely try to be able to help them, try to get them to get small things right. Be it coming on time in training, being professional on or off the pitch and try to eat well. Even though these may seem naïve at first, I do it for the betterment of the squad as a whole. As a senior player, I try to do the small things right and hope the youngsters follow. A few of them have, few will, and I hope everyone understands the basic requirements to be in the national camp.
“It’s an absolute honour to be in the national team, so when new boys come in this camp, we make sure they understand the responsibilities that come with being a part of the camp. I feel like we are now slowly developing that ecosystem where a lot of the senior players, the next batch to me – the likes of Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – they’ve all made that ecosystem where the new player comes in and understands the requirements to be a good professional. That helps create a good atmosphere and eventually, it shows on the pitch,” he also added.
Indian players’ motivation for Asian Cup selection and weather conditions
Sunil Chhetri also believes that this tournament is too early to be prepared for the Asian Cup, but believes the players are motivated to stake their places in the Asian Cup squad. He said: “It’s too early to deduce that. For example, coach Igor tries to keep the preparations in training very simple for us. The training was majorly for these three matches. He told us to think about these three games and not the Asian Cup ones.
“We’re only thinking about the Hero Intercontinental Cup and the Mongolia game. That’s what we are doing. Of course, it’s always going to be in the back of our heads that we’ll play in the Asian Cup next year, every one of us is fighting for their positions first as only 23 players will be there, but we’re currently only thinking about this tournament and winning against Mongolia – that’s it,” he added.
Chhetri also believes that the hot and humid conditions won’t really favour India, as he finished with: “Everyone will be feeling confident. We can’t complain as we’ve been here for the last three weeks. It’s really hot and humid here. Some days it’s very hot even at 6:30 PM, and some days it’s still humid when it rains. But we can’t complain because whenever we play and whatever conditions it is, it’ll be the same for both teams. We’ve been here for three weeks to prepare, so we can’t complain. If it’s going to be hot for us, it’ll be hot for them too. So it’s not an excuse, really.”
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