India play Bahrain in their first international friendly on March 23.

The Indian national team will play their first game of 2022 when they face Bahrain in an international friendly on Wednesday (March 23). It will be the first time Igor Stimac and his mighty Indian side will be in action since their SAFF Championship win in Nepal last October.

Ahead of the match against Bahrain, head coach Igor Stimac and star defender Sandesh Jhingan addressed the media and shared their thoughts on Wednesday’s opponents. Here is what they said.

Plans to try out new things with this squad?

Igor Stimac has called up a lot of new names into his 25-man squad for the upcoming games. Stimac answered the reason behind the bigger squad for the friendlies. “To be honest, in such a circumstance I still don’t know what I’m going to try. I’m yet to know how many players I’ll be having here for the games. Then I’ll try to manage to put the best XI and try a few things.

“As you noticed the ISL was extremely exciting and we’ve seen some new players which is really optimistic for us. I’m going to give chance to the new boys and check how they can do at the international level against stronger opposition and if we can count on them for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.”

Can Prabhsukhan Gill get a start?

Igor Stimac has included seven new faces in his final 25-member squad for the friendlies. He was asked if any of those new faces could start against Bahrain. He was also asked if Prabhsukhan Gill could make a start after his splendid ISL season.

“The goalkeeping position is an extremely important one and for such important international games, we’ll stick with our No. 1, which is Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu),” said Stimac. “Never mind that he didn’t have a successful ISL season with Bengaluru FC or on a personal level. But, he’s been training hard with the goalkeeping coach for the last 11 days and with the team. We’re trying to bring him back to his best form. So, that position is one I’m trying to keep stable, but also very competitive, don’t get me wrong,” Stimac added.

Sunil Chhetri’s absence

Sunil Chhetri is unavailable for the upcoming games as he’s nursing an injury. Stimac also spoke on how he plans to setup his attack without the talisman. “Of course, we have the likes of Manvir (Singh), Rahim Ali, Liston (Colaco), VP (Suhair) and the other boys to replace Sunil,” mentioned Igor Stimac.

“But, most of all, the whole team needs to replace Sunil and his goals. Until now, we didn’t have problems in creating chances when Sunil wasn’t there. But the thing is I expect these players to show up, take responsibility and forget about Sunil. He’ll join us for the upcoming qualifiers, but we need to start to get used to playing without Sunil.”, added the tactician.

Reason for choosing Belarus & Bahrain for upcoming games

India have chosen two very competitive teams for their friendly games before the qualifiers. Speaking on picking Bahrain and Belarus as the opponents, Igor Stimac stated, “The idea was to check on where we stand at the moment. I know for our players its been a difficult season and they are physically and mentally exhausted. But, pride is something I count on when they play for the national team. That’s an extremely important motivation when playing for India and I see they wish to do that so much.

“I want to see our team going out on the pitch being brave, with a positive attitude and the intention to play attacking football. We’re going to concentrate on the middle press and high press for our football. We’re going to take certain risks in trying to play more attacking football and use the ball more, not just to defend,” he quipped.

Plans for pre-Asian Cup Qualifiers training

India are expected to start a preparatory training camp in late April for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. When asked about when he plans to have that and how he wishes to manage the squad, with many players having club commitments, the Croatian stated, “Our next camp starts from 24 April. In the initial two weeks, we’re going to find a place that will be isolated. We want to choose 35 players, who will be tested and selected precisely before that. This will be slashed down to 28 players that will be selected for the upcoming qualifiers.

“After the first two initial weeks, we’ll go somewhere to play a few friendly games. We are already in negotiations and these are going to be quite good friendly games. My plan is to have the last friendly game at the end of May, which is going to be 7-8 days prior to the start of the qualifiers. We’re not sure yet, but it’s probably going to be in Kolkata (the venue) or in Doha (Qatar). We’re going to play a total of three games before the qualifiers. We will have a little more than six weeks of preparation,” Igor Stimac further added.

Sandesh Jhingan’s comments

Being back in the national team

Sandesh Jhingan will be playing his first international game since the FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Afghanistan in June, 2021. Speaking about his feelings on being back in the national team setup, he reflected, “It’s a great feeling. I’ve always said that playing for your country is the greatest honour. I’ve had injuries last year and missed the SAFF Championship in Nepal. I’m very happy and very blessed to get a call-up from the national team, it always feels like the first call-up. It’s important for me to be here, to be with this great batch. I’m really happy and will try to do my best and hopefully get the results.”

Seeing himself as a senior member in the squad

Finally, he was asked how he sees himself as a senior member in a squad filled with young players. The centre-back explained, “Firstly, all the youngsters who have come in, like today’s generation or the ones who come from the 2017 U-17 World Cup batch are so level-headed. So, your job gets easier. I remember during my time, when I came in as a youngster, a lot of the senior players helped me with the transition and I learned from them. Whatever I’ve learned from my journey, from my debut till now, I’ll just try to pass it onto the younger players. But, they’re so level-headed and calm, it’s easy.

“But, always the small things like, in training or in terms or nutritional treatment, it’s in those places where you can feel like you can say something. You always try and be a good example, which is one of the things I always looked at when I was 17 or 18. That can make a lot of difference. When you see the senior actually doing the good things, that serves as a good example,” he added.

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