The coach is staying grounded ahead of the tougher games in the coming days.

India got their AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers off to a perfect start with a comfortable 2-0 win over Cambodia at the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata on Wednesday. A brace from Sunil Chhetri (13’, 60’) was enough to help the Blue Tigers get a big win, that takes them to the top of their group. Igor Stimac was very proud of his players’ efforts and thanked them for the win.

Reaction to win

He reacted to the match, saying, “Just a few words on the win. A big thanks to the boys who played today. It was really difficult because you couldn’t breathe outside today. I understand that the brain isn’t working properly and oxygen isn’t coming up there when needed.

“The players did the best they could do today and got the result we wanted. They got the job done, which is very important. I asked for two things today, goals and clean-sheets. I would’ve been happier with 3-4, but was happy with two too. I’m confident about what is coming up.”

Could’ve scored more goals

Igor Stimac also felt that his side could’ve scored more goals and explained Sunil Chhetri’s substitution after he got a brace, as he added, “A fair result would’ve been if we had won by 4-0. We had 4-5 more clear chances, so two more goals would’ve served well. But, we must be humble. The players are trying but are not finding a way to score.

“You must wonder why I took Sunil and Brandon (Fernnandes) out, who were the two more influential players. We have three games and protect the players. But, we must teach the players to learn without Sunil. And the substitution was to ensure they could play without Sunil, even be it for thirty minutes,” he quipped.

Things going according to plan

When asked about if things went according to plan for him, Igor Stimac stated, “Every game brings different things. It’s how the players can adapt to what I’m asking. I as a coach analyze the opponents and find the biggest weaknesses and how to the players. I ask them to adapt to the things when the time comes and that is big task. When it’s a stronger opponent it’s difficult to press, but we can use that against lower opposition. We have youth in our squad and we have gained a lot of experiences for them in the past few years.

“It’s the time that they give back. As you saw today, Roshan (Singh), Suresh (Singh) and Akash (Mishra) played as if they played for 100 games. They are the players who will wear the shirt for the next 10-12 years. The results will keep coming,” he added.

Role of fans

The Croatian manager was also extremely thankful for the crowd’s support. Igor Stmac noted, “I always save the best words for the end. As I said, prior to the game, we did our best to bring the supporters here because you know what was happening in the past three days. I was stunned about the turnout today. I can only say a big, big thanks to the fans today. I expected a higher number of fans against Afghanistan, but they gave great support throughout 90 minutes. Thank you so much to Kolkata for the support.”

Update on Roshan Singh

Stimac provided details on the fitness and performance of Naorem Roshan Singh after his late substitution. Igor Stimac explained, “Its just a cramp. He should be okay. He is a very fit boy. He could go on, but we didn’t want to risk him. I told him not to go forward towards the end, just to pass it left and right.

“He was sprinting and trying to shoot and cross till the end. I love these types of players, players who are bringing passion and are ready to get injured for the national team and are not afraid of anything. He can serve as an example for everybody.”

The secret weapon

He also revealed India’s ‘secret weapon’ in having two full-backs who are equally comfortable with both feet, saying, “It was our secret weapon. Now, everyone knows about it. I was telling them not to use the weak foot, but they started using it already. They will be okay. I love their quality, it’s fantastic to have young boys in critical positions using both feet in amazing way, shooting, crossing and working forward at full speed. I’m proud of them.”

Praise for Anwar, Suresh

Igor Stimac had high praise for Anwar Ali and Suresh Singh too for their impressive outings. He stated, “He (Anwar) is our secret weapon as well! I praise him so much because he was fighting with some other issues in the past few years. To stay involved and keep playing football wasn’t easy for him. He didn’t deserve to be in the beginning of the camp because Goa didn’t do well last season. But, I knew what he is. I took credit to invite him to the camp and giving him chance, he took the chance with both hands and legs.

“He was brilliant today! I hope his health will serve him well, he won’t face issues in future and he is another great, great player for our future. I’m sorry some other youngsters aren’t here today. But, if everything goes well, we’ll get them back for the Asian Cup finals. When we get Lalengmawia, Rahim Ali, Vikram Pratap here, you will see more energy in the team. They just need to keep their health well and manage their money well!”

On Suresh, he said,  “Tonight we need to accept that Anwar and Sandesh aren’t the quickest in the world and the Cambodian strikers were quicker than them. I needed someone to cut the counter-attacks and he did that well along with switching the ball to the sides. He had an amazing game, overall.”

Support for under-performing players

Igor Stimac also explained the importance of the ‘under-performing’ players in his strikeforce to his plans. He asserted,  “I mention all of them. With speed and strength that we have in some of the boys, some were criticized int eh last 2-3 years, they didn’t perform to the level we expected, but it’s mostly about how the team is performing and what the coach is doing – is he messing up or doing the proper things.

“I have some players who will be here while I’m here, irrespective of how they play at the club level. The speed and strength I have in Manvir (Singh) and Ashique (Kuruniyan), I need them here to use the speed they have to hurt the opposition, irrespective of how they are playing.. We don’t have a big pool of players to choose from, so we need them in our team,” he further quipped.

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