The Indian national captain also spoke about representing the country for 17 years.

Igor Stimac says that the Indian football team is not focusing on making any calculations and are looking at winning the crucial game against Hong Kong. The Blue Tigers have six points in Group D of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers and are on the cusp of making it into the main draw. Post two wins against Cambodia and Afghanistan, the outfit will hope to get the better of the team which is aiming to win the group as well.

The tactician was joined by Sunil Chhetri in the pre-match press conference. The pair took questions from the media and made comments on topics like approach to the match, team selection headaches and more. 

Here is what the head coach of the national team and the skipper said in preparation for the group decider against Hong Kong on 14 June 2022: 

Approach to the match

Hong Kong are leading the Group D of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers going into the final matchday. Igor Stimac talks about Hong Kong’s ability, the challenge ahead and the approach to the crucial tie. He quipped, “We need to complement Hong Kong for what they have shown in this tournament and they have a better scoring number against Cambodia than us.

“They are a disciplined side with enough quality to defend and attack. But, we studied their strengths and weaknesses and know what we need to do to win this game. This game is of the same importance as the previous two. There is less pressure obviously…and we will do everything to win this game.”

Recovery and a team selection headache

Igor Stimac expressed that picking the starting lineup is a good headache to have. Commenting about the recovery of the players and more, he said the time for an individual to recover depends on the fitness of each player. He also stressed the importance of fresh legs for important games.

“The recovery process doesn’t change. It depends on the individual fitness of each player and how much recovery time they need until the next game comes. We need fresh legs. This is my main worry and I love this worry. I love this kind of headache. Feeling sorry for leaving anyone out because they all performed so well. But we also need to be reasonable and if the screening shows any player is in danger of getting an injury then we need to reconsider,” the head coach explained.  

Praise for Liston Colaco

Liston Colaco has shown a lot of promise in the two games at the Asian Cup Qualifiers. The ATK Mohun Bagan forward, playing in Kolkata, has impressed with his decision-making. Igor Stimac stated, “Liston can play in any position in the front four. We have to make him aware that at this stage it’s important that he releases the ball earlier than driving towards goal and taking on three-four defenders which is very difficult and exhausting.

“He has a great ability and is different. We are expecting him to shine in the future more and more. What I am proud of is his defensive commitment for us in the last couple of games.”

“You could see how much he was sprinting back after losing the ball, winning the ball in the middle of the pitch and then going to attack. These are the type of players we need, responsible players who are not only there to receive the ball and attack,” the Croatian boss continued while praising Colaco’s work ethic.

Praise to the All India Football Federation

Igor Stimac reserved praise for the work behind the scenes which is happening in Indian football. He mentioned the U-17 World Cup that happened in 2017 and the impact it has had on young minds. The Croatian also talked about the youngsters contributing to the senior national team. He remarked, “Let us concentrate on the positive sides like bringing World Cup here for U17 boys.

“The projects which have grown so many players and contributed to the future of Indian football like Akash Mishra, Asish Rai, Roshan, Vikram Pratap Singh and many more are now senior team players. It (the system) can be better, but we cannot say it’s not good enough.”

Sunil Chhetri on ending the tournament positively

The Indian national team has done well so far in the tournament. With two wins from the two games, the challenge is to end the tournament positively. In this regard, Sunil Chhetri expressed, “We have to try and do our best to continue from where we left. At the start of the tournament, the head coach made sure that it is a tournament we are going to win. There is a big prize at the end which is the qualification to the Asian Cup.

“Even though we have done good in the last two games, but we haven’t won anything yet. We are just focusing on one game and we have one thing to do which is to qualify and end the tournament on a positive note. 

The prospect of rubbing shoulders with the best in Asia

Sunil Chhetri feels motivated to win the tournament and believes that India aspires to play against the best on the continent. He has been vocal about qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup regularly to be the bare minimum the national team should achieve every time. He noted, “The speciality of this tournament is that if we win the next game, we would qualify for the Asia Cup. It has only happened two times before when we have played the qualifiers and qualified for the Asian Cup.

“It is somewhere we aspire to be. We were in the Asia Cup the last time, and we know the feeling. To rub the shoulders with the best in Asia is what we want to do. That is the plan and that is why this tournament is very special for us. 

Playing for India for 17 years

Reminiscing about his journey and feelings about the current setup, Chhetri said, “It has been a brilliant journey. It is an honour playing for the country for 17 years, it is not very common. About this team, I feel very good to be a part of this team because of the competition we have, in the way they encourage each other, especially me. That is the speciality of this team and I am enjoying it. I am one part of 25 boys and I have got a small role that I have to play.”

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