The Blue Tigers are set to face Nepal in the first of two friendlies on Thursday.

The Indian national team will return to action on the 2nd of September. The Blue Tigers will play two back-to-back International Friendlies against Nepal at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu. Ahead of the tie, India’s head coach Igor Stimac and skipper Sunil Chhetri addressed the media.

On tomorrow’s game

Stimac was asked about his feelings ahead of the friendlies against Nepal. “Thank you very much all for coming for such a big interest for these two games. Of course, we are very happy to have a chance to be together again and having some friendly games in preparation for upcoming SAFF competition,” said Igor Stimac. “Everything is not ideal, but I just hope that the games will be good, if you’re going to provide good and exciting football. We need to learn on the pitch and we hope that all the players will be fit and ready.”

Availability of ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC players

The national team started camping in Kolkata from August 15 onwards in order to prepare for the upcoming games. Igor Stimac chose a squad of initial probables, except for players from ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC. The Mariners and the Blues featured in the recently concluded AFC Cup group stage fixtures and hence, were not available for majority of the camp.

When asked if the players who played in the AFC Cup will be available for contention for the first game, he said, “Yes, obviously when I said, not everything was ideal, I specifically thought about that. We didn’t have players for ATK Mohun Bagan and BFC with us. Most of them are a regular part of our team and they know what I’m expecting of them. We’re happy that they had some AFC Cup games, so they are in a good fitness condition.”

Thoughts on Nepal

Igor Stimac was questioned about how well his team knows Nepal. “We did our analysis, our work on analyzing the Nepalese team. They made a certain progress in the recent qualifiers. They showed that they can play good football. Defensively, they improved quite a lot. Now, they are defending as a team, you can recognize that on the pitch,” said the 53-year-old.

Inclusion of Seriton Fernandes and Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem

The former Croatian international was asked if there’s a chance for the uncapped players in the squad to make their debuts tomorrow. “We only have Seriton with us, who hasn’t been with us until now. He was supposed to be with the team during the last three qualifying games, but for COVID reasons he was not able to join us. So, he will get his chance now because we suffered in that right full-back position for quite a while and we are looking for an option.”

The tactician further went on to explain his view on Dheeraj Singh Moraigthem. “Dheeraj, at the moment, is the regular third-choice goalkeeper for India in this situation. Of course, he’s very young and we are counting on him in the future, strongly. We think that he can be someone, who will make his place in Indian football history in the right way. He proved himself in the AFC Champions League with FC Goa, with wonderful saves,” Igor Stimac highlighted. “We are very confident that he can become a top goalkeeper in Asia. He will very soon find his place in good European leagues,” he asserted.

Sunil Chhetri’s comments

India skipper Sunil Chhetri too was asked to share his personal thoughts going into tomorrow’s game. “First of all, we are very thankful to the Nepal government for inviting us here. We very well understand the kind of situation we have around the world and to get the kind of hospitality, we have got, to get an opportunity to come and play international football is really soothing for us. The hospitality has been great. And just expecting, very good games on the 2nd and on the 5th.

“As the coach said, we as players, we want to give the best account of ourselves. There are a lot of important matches coming up for us as a nation and this is a good start for the season against a very tough opponent in Nepal. We’ll try our best to give as much as we can to the coach and to the national team,” said the skipper.

Chhetri was asked about what he feels about the rivalry between Nepal and India. “It has always been very, very difficult. No matter what situation the Nepalese team is in, they always, give whatever they have against us. I’m pretty sure that you understand that, we are not expecting anything less. It does not matter where we are, whenever we’ve played the national team of Nepal it has always been difficult,” Chhetri noted.

Playing against past Nepal teams

Sunil Chhetri has the experience of playing against previous Nepalese teams, but this time he will face a completely new squad filled with young blood. The skipper was asked to rate the Nepalese team from the past and now.

“The last time we faced the Nepal national team was in 2015. We did play the Army Boys in the AFC Cup. A lot of boys play in the national team from that team and it was tough. The first half was 0-0, it was almost 50-50 in the game. It was difficult to find openings and that is the kind of information we pass to the coach also, that it’s not easy to play against them.

“There are a lot of young faces. A lot of the boys that I used to play with and fight before, aren’t there. But, I mean, it’s always difficult to play Nepal no matter who is playing. The boys play really hard, they give a very good account of themselves and I’m pretty sure we’re going to face the same difficulty, especially because they’re playing at home. A Nepalese team, when you play outside and play in Nepal, is two different things,” Chhetri concluded.

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