The tactician also had kind words for a number of young players who were part of the Indian squad at the tournament.

India emerged victorious at the 2021 SAFF Championship final against Nepal. This was the second notable achievement of Igor Stimac in a tournament after the Kings Cup in 2019, where the Blue Tigers finished at the third spot.

After a disappointing run of performance at the Intercontinental cup, 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and a few international friendlies, India finally found their mojo at the SAFF Championship. They started the tournament on the back foot, but capped it off with the trophy.

The Blue Tigers faced Nepal in the final and won their record eighth SAFF Championship title. Sunil Chhetri, Suresh Wangjam and Sahal Abdul Samad wrapped up a 3-0 win for the Blue Tigers.

Following the Indian football team’s win at the tournament head coach Igor Stimac interacted with the press, speaking about the players, challenges and more.

Role of Manvir Singh

Manvir Singh has emerged as an able goalscorer for both club and country of late and Igor Stimac was fast to praise the forward for his performance. He also felt that the 25-year-old needs to play more as a centre forward for ATK Mohun Bagan to develop his abilities.

“We’re using each and every minute to help Manvir develop his game so that he can help the national team in the future. Manvir cannot play in a central position at ATK Mohun Bagan because they have Roy Krishna. He is more on the right position as a winger. It will be much better for us if he was playing as a central player in the club also,” the Croatian began.

“But playing games is also a great benefit for him. He proved in the last couple of years that he’s rising up as a player. It will take some more time for him to develop as a proper striker. But as of now, we see him as a great partner for Sunil (Chhetri),” he continued.

Sunil Chhetri’s influence in the team

Despite Sunil Chhetri scoring goals whenever he can, India have had a tough time in front of the goal under Igor Stimac. The tactician was quizzed on how is he planning to get a solution to this, he felt that the Indian captain needs a partner to take the pressure off him.

“Obviously you cannot rely on Sunil to play as a centre forward all the time. He needs a partner to take the pressure off him. He (Sunil Chhetri) is still at his peak. We have other boys like Rahim Ali who have shown that we can count on them,” He asserted.

Chhetri has always led from the front and Igor Stimac revealed his influence in the dressing room. “Apart from scoring goals, it’s his leadership on the pitch. He’s the most passionate player in the dressing room at his age which in unbelievable. He’s fitness condition is unbelievable. I look at him at as the best player and age is not important for me,” he quipped.

On winning his first trophy with India

Since taking over as the head coach of the Indian football team, the 2021 SAFF Championship was the first trophy for the Croatian in his stint. Speaking about his thoughts after winning the first title with India, he said, “It is special. I’m very happy for all the players worked because they worked very hard in difficult circumstances. There was a lot of criticism. But Suffering is the only way to get where we’re headed to.”

On defensive stability

The Blue Tigers have displayed a mixed defensive performances under the Croatian. However, Igor Stimac feels that India have now become more stable defensively.

“We have become a very solid side defensively. We’re not anymore India which concedes many goals. We stick to the plan and don’t lose our shape throughout the game,” he opined.

On Liston Colaco, Lalengmawia and Sahal Abdul Samad

India’s SAFF Championship win came with many positives. However, the development of a few players tops the list. Stimac was asked about his thoughts on Liston Colaco, Lalengmawia and Sahal Abdul Samad and he had kind words for all of them.

“Liston Colaco might become a very important player for us in the future. He has speed, technique and can score goals. But Liston needs to develop himself more defensively in order to become a top player,” he suggested.

“Sahal and Lalengmawia give us an extra energy on the pitch. Thapa, Yasir and Suresh are also there. I’m happy to work with them and they bring us a bright future,” he opined.

Thoughts on biennial World Cup

FIFA has recently proposed the idea of organising the World Cup every two years and Igor Stimac welcomed the idea of the revamp. “As the coach of India, I would love to have it. But we have to be more realistic. It will provide a chance to the countries who have never participated at a World Cup,” he said.

“It will be much easier to find your chance at the World Cup if it’s held every two years and I’ll support this action as the coach of India as it might benefit India in the near future. But I would love to hear the explanations behind this,” he explained.

On Sandesh Jhingan’s move to Croatia

India international Sandesh Jhingan became the latest player from the nation to sign for an overseas club as he secured a move to Croatian top-tier side HNK Sibenik. Speaking about his thoughts on Jhingan’s move to Croatia, Igor Stimac felt the move shows his ambition but it will hard for the centre back in the league.

“It shows us how ambitious he (Jhingan) is. Not everyone can make such a decision and try himself at the very top level. Croatian league is a highly competitive league. He will find himself in a competitive league and it’s not going to be easy. It’s great for the national team if Sandesh succeeds there,” he concluded.

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