The Blue Tigers’ tactician was in Bullish mood despite back-to-back poor results in SAFF Championships.

India followed their 1-1 draw against 10-man Bangladesh in their SAFF Championship 2021 opener with a drab 0-0 stalemate against Sri Lanka. Facing a Lankan side who had lost each of their last two games, Igor Stimac’s men mustered only one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. That came courtesy a header from Sunil Chhetri deep in the second half from a corner, which was gloved away by Sri Lanka goalkeeper Sujan Perera.

The only other time, India found the target was when substitute Farukh Choudhary scored off a rebound. But, the goal was ruled out for an offside. Despite the dismal performance, India did create two golden opportunities to take the lead on either side of the break. But, first Liston Colaco glanced his header over when left unmarked and then Subhasish Bose failed to tap the ball into an empty net late in the game.

The draw left India four points adrift of leaders Nepal, who have six from two games. India, from the same number of matches, have two points and are at third. Draws in consecutive matches also mean the Blue Tigers now must win against Nepal, who they play on Sunday. Coach Igor Stimac agreed that the Nepal clash will be a crucial fixture, but remains confident the Blue Tigers can win.

“Nepal could be a crucial game. If we win that one then we can be okay. We faced Nepal twice already,” said the Croatian. “On their soil, we were good and I am confident we can win that game.”

Goal-scoring problems

But, to win India will have to score goals and so far they have managed just one in their first two games. Infact, the Blue Tigers have failed to create enough goalscoring chances to win matches. Igor Stimac admitted that it is a concern. But, he’s happy that the team maintains its progress in other areas.

“After the first two games, the only thing missing is goals,” said Stimac. “We were a much better team than Bangladesh. Even today, it was only one team on the pitch, India. So, we are dominating these games. We controlled both of our matches.”

The 54-year-old also asserted that his team left Sri Lanka devoid of any creativity and without the ball, forcing them to defend deep and in numbers.

“Sri Lanka played much better in their first two games. You could see they are playing and doing something football-wise. But, today they could do nothing,” he pointed out. “So, we controlled the game well, same as against Bangladesh. Ball possession is okay and shots on target is fine, only goals are missing,” added Stimac, who scored two goals in Croatia’s FIFA U-20 World Cup win in 1987. “I cannot go there and score goals, players need to do that.”

Under Stimac, India have only won three of their 19 matches. Among the many issues the Blue Tigers have encountered under the Croatian, the foremost has been scoring enough goals. India have scored only 18 goals and a major chunk of them have come from Sunil Chhetri. But, Stimac said he was surprised that India failed to find the net against Sri Lanka.

“Surprising how we cannot score. We cannot say anything to the players, they were good. Their passing was quick today and they were finding spaces despite Sri Lanka defending with all 11 players at the back and creating chances,” he said. “But, scoring is an obvious problem for us. It’s been throughout the qualifiers and it’s obvious today also we could not score against teams like Sri Lanka. We have to ask ourselves why we fear so much in front of goal.”

Sri Lanka’s time-wasting policy

Igor Stimac also accused Sri Lanka of time-wasting and only looking for a draw. “Only one team came to play football today. It was obvious from the first minute. Sri Lanka was more concentrated on wasting time than playing,” said the Indian head coach.

“I didn’t enjoy the game. I think a tournament like this which is brilliant for South Asian countries should serve players to learn how to play football and to advance their game. Not to lay down on the pitch for 28-35 minutes like today,” Stimac added.

Chances of reaching final

Despite a lacklustre start to the tournament and being winless after the opening two matches, Stimac is confident that India will be there on October 16, when the final will be played.

“Sometimes easy games become very difficult and on the other hand, difficult games become easier,” said the 54-year-old optimistic about his team’s chances. “So, what we need to do now is to win against Nepal and Maldives to find a way to the final. I just hope they (Nepal and Maldives) will be more concentrated on playing football rather than wasting time,” he added.

Playing Style Matters

When confronted with the most common notion in football that results matter, despite all the domination and progress, Igor Stimac insisted that everything matters.

“It matters. I don’t have a problem with how we play, how we commit ourselves on the pitch. How players are moving with their fitness and with their attitude. I don’t see any problem there. Everything is there, but goals,” said the Croatian. “We need to start scoring goals to win games.”

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