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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

Top three challenges for Igor Stimac against Kuwait

Published at :May 28, 2024 at 8:01 PM
Modified at :May 28, 2024 at 8:01 PM
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Uttiyo Sarkar


Igor Stimac has a tough task in hand for the upcoming game.

India will return to action in their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign when they host Kuwait at the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata on June 6. Even though the game is being built around Sunil Chhetri’s final game for India, it has a lot of importance riding on it. India, for one, needs to win this match to have a strong chance of moving into the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.

Igor Stimac is under intense pressure after failing to guide India to a single win in 2024. Incidentally, the Blue Tigers’ last win was against Kuwait in November 2023. But the situation is a completely different one, which makes this a must-win game. Igor Stimac knows that another underwhelming result will mount more questions around his future as the national team’s head coach.

The Croatian gaffer faces some challenges, be it his team selection or the kind of system he’ll implement to oust the Kuwait side. Here we look at the top three challenges faced by Stimac for the upcoming game.

3. The full-back conundrum

India have chosen eight defenders in their squad for the Kuwait game. The centre-back partnership is almost set in stone with Rahul Bheke to be partnered with Anwar Ali amid Sandesh Jhingan’s absence. But there are questions about who will take up the full-back roles.

Stimac has several options for both the right-back and left-back positions, which could confuse. Nikhil Poojary has been India’s right-back for the 2024 matches but produced some underwhelming efforts. Stimac has the chance to give Amey Ranawade his debut.

The Odisha FC defender had a great 2023-24 Indian Super League (ISL) season where he delivered six assists in 24 games. Even in the left-back role, there are multiple options to offer. Stimac can opt to play the reliable Subhasish Bose, who was one of the best defenders in the ISL last season.

There is also the option to give the young upstart Jay Gupta his debut after his excellent breakthrough season with FC Goa. Gupta is especially adventurous and effective going forward down the left and can add that attacking spark. Stimac has multiple ways to set up his backline, but it’s to be seen how he combines his full-backs on the day.

2. Finding the ideal support for Sunil Chhetri

All eyes will be on Sunil Chhetri during the Kuwait match because of how important it is for him. The Indian fans will be desperately hoping to see the iconic captain scoring in his final match and going off with his head held high. But it will be on Stimac to choose the lineup and system that best suits Chhetri in this game.

That includes the kind of players who will be around the 39-year-old forward and be responsible for giving him the necessary service needed for him to score goals. Stimac has many variations that he can try with his wingers and the midfielders around Chhetri.

He’ll need to decide whether to play the Mumbai City duo of Lallianzuala Chhangte and Vikram Pratap Singh or mix them with Mohun Bagan stars Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco.

Naorem Mahesh Singh is arguably the more creative winger than the abovementioned ones, so he can be the ideal one to feed Chhetri with quality final third passes. Then there is the dilemma of whether to play Brandon Fernandes or Sahal Abdul Samad.

Fernandes created the most chances in the ISL last season (among Indian players) and has that Midas touch needed to send Chhetri through on goal with his through balls or deliver accurate crosses into the box. Anirudh Thapa has great chemistry with Chhetri too, so he can be also played in midfield to bring that energetic drive. It’ll be on Stimac to find the perfect formula to ensure Chhetri gets the best delivery in his final game.

1. Solving the goal-scoring issue

India have had a major problem in terms of scoring goals all through their matches in 2024. The Blue Tigers couldn’t score a single goal in the AFC Asian Cup and were also held to a 0-0 draw by Afghanistan after that. They lost their recent qualifier against the Lions of Khorasam by a 2-1 margin, where Sunil Chhetri scored a penalty.

India haven’t got a goal from open play since that 1-0 win over Kuwait last year when Manvir Singh scored from close range. While Stimac can’t physically make the players score goals on the pitch, he needs to work hard with them in training and help them become more clinical in key goal-scoring scenarios.

He needs to get his forwards to constantly work on their finishing attributes from in the box and also win the aerial duels to score headers. He faces a challenge in glistening the Blue Tigers’ attacking style and ensuring that the players can create big chances more regularly.

Stimac has to work to help India improve their set-piece ability knowing how big a chance the Blue Tigers have to score from corners or free-kicks against Kuwait. With fans growing tired of India’s incapability to score goals or convert chances efficiently, Stimac is under pressure to get the players to polish their goal conversion rate and stop wasting big chances.

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