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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

International games are very different from ISL games, says Igor Stimac after India's draw against Kuwait

Published at :June 7, 2024 at 12:09 AM
Modified at :June 10, 2024 at 8:22 PM
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Uttiyo Sarkar


Igor Stimac also mentioned that every match is a challenge for the team.

India played out an underwhelming 0-0 draw against Kuwait in their 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers second round clash on June 6. Both teams had their chances, but neither could convert them.

This resulted in an anticlimactic end to Sunil Chhetri’s international career, with the Blue Tigers needing to win their final qualifier against Qatar to move into the third round.

Unhappy with India’s performance

Igor Stimac was disappointed with the result and performance in Chhetri’s final game, as he explained, “We are disappointed with the result. The game was tough, as we expected. The draw is realistic tonight, they opened the game much better and with more confidence – in terms of passing, speed of passing and moving.

“It took us some time to gear up and start passing the ball into the danger zones, the general passing speed was our biggest problem tonight – it wasn’t good enough. Even in certain moments when we put pressure on them, there was no delivery to help the forwards. We conceded they have lots of individual quality and they were killing the game with time-wasting whenever they could.

“The weather conditions didn’t help as they knew when to stop the game and they wasted 17-18 minutes with medical help and time-wasting. But, that is football. That’s not the reason we didn’t win, we weren’t clinical in front of goal and our best player tonight was Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), which isn’t good. It’s fantastic to have such a goalkeeper here, who we never doubted.

“We know what he can do and how much he can help the team tonight. Sad for Sunil, really sad that he didn’t go with a win – but we don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves as we are still alive,” Igor Stimac said.

“I need to do everything in the next five days to make the boys believe, make them create an environment of a belief that can take us into a challenge against Qatar – who are a very different team. We have a small hope, but it’s still there and we need to believe and trust in ourselves and give our best shot to win the game,” Igor Stimac also added.

Qatar clash & India’s approach to Kuwait game

When asked about the upcoming qualifier against Qatar, Igor Stimac replied, “Every game is a challenge for us. We don’t have easy games. We are not the team who can say we have easy games ahead of us. But, I feel that the game against a stronger but younger opponent gives us the chance to play a counter-attacking game ad with a good middle block and we hope to finish chances clinically.

“I hope we don’t leak defensively easy chances, as we saw out of nothing there was a chance in front of Gurpreet and if that happens against Qatar we don’t stand a chance because they will be clinical.”

Igor Stimac was not unhappy with his side’s approach to the game but feels that they need to be more clutch in these games, explaining, “About everything, we were all trying to think of Sunil’s farewell because the result was the most important for Sunil.

“He was not thinking of his last minutes, not a single player or staff member. We looked at how we could approach the game, as we played our three at the back and more forward players in the late stages to gain more opportunities at the end and do everything in our capacity at the moment to win.

“Now, we can feel how much we miss beating Afghanistan. We can see how important it is now that we are on top of our game and win points in the games we are expected to gain points.

“They started well and our weaknesses which were visible against Afghanistan, where we also handled the long balls poorly. We weren’t decisive or aggressive enough to put the striker in the stranded situation, we were late in decision-making and they handled the situations very well. In the later stages, we started moving well and positioning ourselves better.

“We need to work on these situations with our players. These international games are much different than what we see in the ISL, there is more quality and more technicality than the ISL. It’s visible that they were coming out of the ISL league, they had shortcomings, but that their legs were going and they tried hard but failed to do much,” Igor Stimac also mentioned.

Need for more clinical approach

Igor Stimac believes that his team needed to be more decisive with their forward passes and in the final third. He revealed, “How we opened the game, it was a matter of self-confidence. When we held onto the ball for too long, it was to give it to the goalkeeper.

“We needed to keep passing, use our wingers and make passes in between the lines. We were trying to drive the ball forward, but failed to get the ball into good positions and that needs to be better.”

Set-piece issues & David Lalhlansanga’s chance

When asked if he was unhappy with how his side approached their set-pieces and failed to score from corners, Igor Stimac answered, “Kuwait has a good height on their team, we created 2-3 good chances from our corners and free-kicks from distance. But, even that needs to be better. We are coming into the chances but not putting the ball into the net.

“There were a few chances, when Adil Khan scored against Bangladesh and how Len Doungel scored with a fantastic header at the near post. We had enough chance to win the game, the best one from Rahim Ali who made a fantastic run and Brandon (Fernandes) was there to make a fantastic pass to bring him in front of the goalkeeper. Whatever Rahim did in training brilliantly didn’t happen tonight and that’s what makes the difference.”

When questioned on the possibility of David Lalhlansanga playing against Qatar as a possible Sunil Chhetri replacement, Igor Stimac revealed, “David will be in the 23-man squad for the next game. We need to see the screening and who is available for us. It was nice to see Edmund (Lalrindika) playing tonight and show we have talented boys in the I-League which we must take care of.

“He will be a valuable asset for the national team in the future and I hope he’ll have a great future in the Canadian club for his club. Now, it’s upon David to show himself, but it’s now to get the results. I need to know how I can balance the team, to see the fresh legs and play with composure and see the team who can hurt Qatar.”

Reason for not playing Jeakson Singh & Jay Gupta’s debut

Speaking about why Jeakson Singh or Naorem Mahesh Singh didn’t start the game, the tactician replied, “That was my decision. We could choose between (Lallianzuala) Chhangte, Liston (Colaco) and Manvir (Singh) and the decision was for Manvir to come on because Chhangte can help us much better against three centre-backs to cover a 100-metre pitch.

“Mahesh is more of a player for the final third, I don’t think we made any substitution mistakes because all the substitutes did several good things and I have no complaints about that. Mahesh will probably get minutes against Qatar and help us win the game.”

Igor Stimac also had a lot of praise for debutant Jay Gupta and how he performed, claiming, “I think Jay did a great job for us tonight. That is another debut for the national team, but he’s a little bit timid. Gurpreet can continue how good he was in the training games, he was hammering everyone, going up and down and scoring and assisting.

“Of course, a game like this is different, but there was nothing wrong about him tonight – he did everything he needed to – defending well and positioning himself well. He’s a player who can give us the energy that we need going forward. We have various options in Jay Gupta, if we want to play three or four at the back. We need to be patient for him to get more experience and Subhasish (Bose) is there to push him too. There’s a good competition on the left side,” Igor Stimac stated.

Disappointing performances from midfielders

But, he refused to praise that many players, voicing his disappointment with Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad. Igor Stimac stated, “When you don’t win the game and aren’t happy with the result, how can you say that some players impressed you?

‘We need to be better, some were good but many things tonight were not where we wanted to be. You could see that we couldn’t start dominating the game in the middle even if we started with Sahal and Thapa. I expected much more from them in the first half.

“But, Sahal didn’t play in the final stages and has been injured for long. He was covering lots of ground, his defensive work was fantastic and he looked nice with Sunil. But, I needed Sahal to be a playmaker to create chances and also put in defensive work.

“Thapa has got enough experience to adapt to whatever situation expects him to. I expect more from them as they have enough experience to do so,” Igor Stimac added.

Message for fans

Finally, Igor Stimac thanked the fans and urged them to believe in India’s ability to defeat Qatar in the last match, claiming, “Huge appreciation for the fans, for their support. We need to believe in our team and in our ability in what is possible.

“We have a young team and in five days might be like India U-23 vs Qatar U-23 in terms of how young the players are. I expect a lot from my team for this upcoming game,” Igor Stimac concluded.

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