Igor Stimac’s first assignment has his team taking an opposition featuring many players plying their trade in Europe.

After a rather acrimonious exit from the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, India are all set to kick-off their international calendar with a trip to Thailand for the King’s Cup. Although, the continental showpiece brings back bittersweet memories, the Blue Tigers will be hoping for better things to come under new tactician Igor Stimac.

Taking up the mantle from Stephen Constantine, the Croatian head coach’s arrival has bought much fanfare. A World Cup bronze medallist with Croatia in 1998, Stimac is expected to instil a new philosophy in the squad, revolving around Total Football, as stated by Sunil Chhetri during the national preparatory camp in Delhi.

In what could be a newlook India lineup with many unfamiliar call-ups, the Blue Tigers will be facing Curacao in their first match of the tournament. A win will send them to the finale, where they will face either Thailand or Vietnam.

Watch: Sunil Chhetri speaks to media before team’s departure to Thailand

About The Teams

Curacao

Currently ranked 82nd in the FIFA World Rankings, the Dutch Caribbean island nation will be expecting the Indian challenge to be rather easy, due to the type of players involved and also recent results.

In their previous four fixtures, the Island country have won three, but lost their most recent one. Against Antigua and Barbuda, the team coached by Remko Bicentini lost 2-1. Meanwhile, against Guadeloupe, US Virgin Islands and Grenada, the side scored a total of 21 goals. Also, they have conceded only two goals in that time.

Tactically, Curacao play a brand of Total Football, as Bicentini earlier served as national team assistant to none other than Patrick Kluivert. Bicentini took charge after the Dutchman stepped down in 2016. He has imbibed a very Dutch style of play in the team. Under him, Curacao also won the Caribbean Cup in 2017.


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The CONCACAF side boasts a squad of players with plenty of European experience, which could prove to be a daunting task for their opponents. 

Cuco Martina, who is also his nation’s skipper, will have a big role to play at right-back. His experience of playing for the likes of Everton, Southampton and FC Twente, is a huge beneficial factor for his side. His duty will be to stop the likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Michael Soosairaj and Brandon Fernandes; which could turn out to be an epic contest.

27-year-old Leandro Bacuna has just faced relegation with English side Cardiff City, but he will have a very important role to play as his side’s defensive midfielder. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Eloy Room, Elson Hooi (winger), and Jafar Arias (striker) will also have big roles to play.

India

The Blue Tigers are 101st in the FIFA World Rankings, a decline since the departure of Constantine.

In their last four international fixtures, India have won one, lost two and drawn one encounter. The victory was against Thailand in the Asian Cup, while the losses were to Bahrain and the UAE. The stalemate was against Oman.

Watch: India’s final training session in Delhi before leaving for Thailand

In the past four matches, the South Asian outfit have scored four goals (which was a 1-4 win against the War Elephants), and conceded four.

Tactically, Stimac has been heralded as a very defensive and conservative head coach, but he could change his plans as India boss. Under Constantine, the Blue Pilgrims saw their players play some exciting football, but also lose their nerves in the final third. But under Stimac, we could see a few changes, with Chhetri stating, “He wants us to be very strong while defending and also to be very brave while attacking.”

The Croatian can’t just use a conservative approach with India. The main problem lies in the final third, which the coach needs to solve by bringing in more goals. Even talisman Chhetri’s nerves were visible in the fixtures against the UAE and Bahrain. Against the former, the Blue Tigers missed a host of chances in the first half and could have been atleast two goals ahead. That’s why Indian football fans called for the inclusion of striker Jobby Justin, but his exit from Stimac’s squad has split public opinion. Some voiced their support for the decision, while others were against it. So, once more the team could be very over-reliant on Chhetri for goals.


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Stimac has also selected six newcomers; Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Michael Soosairaj, Brandon Fernandes, Rahul Bheke, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Raynier Fernandes.

Also, the international retirement of Anas Edathodika has left a void in India’s backline, which could probably be filled by Bheke. Further, the Bengaluru FC defender could provide competition to Pritam Kotal at right-back. Bheke’s biggest strength is his versatility. He could very well prove an upgrade on Edathodika.

Also, the presence of Soosairaj and Brandon brings in that little bit of adventure and eccentricity to this Indian team and if both start, fans could be excited by their mazy dribbles. In the Asian Cup, the national team lacked adventurous players like the duo. 

Also, Chhetri is set to break former skipper Bhaichung Bhutia’s record as India’s most capped player. Both have 107 appearances currently.

Against Curacao, the Blue Tigers face a daunting task, mainly due to lack of fitness, as all the players were involved in their respective off-season activities in the build-up to the tournament.

Formations

Curacao

It is widely expected that Bicentini will be starting with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bacuna playing as a box-to-box midfielder. It is pretty evident that former Vitesse player Room will be the starting goalkeeper, while the backline will consist of Martina (Cuco), Martina (Shermar), Lachman and Carolina.

The Dutch Caribbean nation is expected to field a 4-2-3-1 formation

In the defensive midfield role, Bacuna will probably be joined by Shermaine Martina.

Upfront, former Groningen winger Jarchinio Antonio could play on the right wing, with Hooi on the left and Arias as an attacking midfielder. Gino van Kessel or Gervane Kasteneer could start as the solitary striker.

Bicentini’s main weapons are Martina (Cuco), Bacuna, and Antonio. 29-year-old Martina’s experience and leadership skills will be a big asset and he would probably be facing Soosairaj or Chhangte or Fernandes. Against any of them, the former Everton man will be having the upper hand. Also, his marauding runs down the flank could hurt the opposition and his delicious crosses could be a treat for Kasteneer or Kessel. 

Bacuna will be an imposing figure at the heart of his side’s midfield. He will have to deal with the likes of Anirudh Thapa, Samad and Pronay Halder. A towering presence, Bacuna will need to use his physicality a lot, to get the better of the Indian counterparts in midfield. Meanwhile, Antonio will need to combine well with Martina (Cuco) and put in a defensive shift, as well an offensive one.

India

During his managerial career, Stimac has always preferred the 4-2-3-1 over other formations, due to its flexibility in defence and attack. The #1 is going to be given to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for sure, who will have the responsibility of standing between the sticks.

In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Udanta and Soosairaj (or Brandon) could play on the flanks

The backline will most probably consist of Pritam Kotal (right-back), Rahul Bheke (right centre-back), Sandesh Jhingan (left centre-back), and Subhasish Bose (left-back).

Based on the previous domestic season’s form, Stimac could go with Adil Khan and Thapa as his defensive midfielders. While Udanta Singh is the obvious choice on the right wing. However, there is some confusion regarding who will start as the attacking midfielder and left winger. Soosairaj and Samad will compete for the position behind the striker. While, Soosairaj and Brandon will compete for the left winger’s position. Upfront, it is pretty obvious that Chhetri will be the solitary striker.

Also, Chhangte could be a surprise start on the left flank in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Meanwhile, Pune City’s Khan could also play as a defender, with Bheke as a right-back.

In a 4-3-3 formation, Halder, Thapa and Samad could form a midfield trident

India could also go with an attacking formation in the guise of a 4-3-3. In this system, we could see a backline consisting of Bheke, Adil, Jhingan and Bose.

The destroyer’s role could be assigned to Halder. In front of him, we could see Samad and Thapa dictating play. Samad could be given a free role, while Thapa will have the duty to build momentum. On the right flank, Udanta is a sure starter, while Soosairaj and Brandon will compete for the left flank. As already mentioned, Chhangte could be a surprise inclusion. The wingers will support Chhetri, who will be the striker. In this formation, we could see the Bengaluru skipper dropping deep on occasions, with the wingers getting in behind for delicious through balls from Chhetri, Thapa, and Samad.

The only problem with starting Samad is his lack of energy. The Kerala Blasters lad has a very high work-rate, but his lack of stamina is a negative aspect. He loves to run around the field, having a part to play in defending and attacking.

In a 3-5-1-1 formation, Stimac could field Chhangte on the left flank

Although, least expected, but there could be a possibility that Stimac could begin with a 3-5-1-1 formation. In this attacking shape, we could see Bheke, Jhingan and Bose (or Adil) form a sturdy three-man defence. Jhingan could play the libero role.

The role of the destroyer will either be between Halder or Khan. Both are physically imposing and could prove a tough obstacle for Curacao. Whoever starts, will have to be less adventurous and act as the final brick wall in front of India’s defence.

Samad and Thapa will need to dictate play and keep momentum in the middle of the park.  On the flanks, we could see Chhangte starting in this formation, with Udanta on the right flank. Both will be playing as wing-backs and will need to track back. In this formation, Chhangte will get the nod ahead of Soosairaj or Brandon on the flank, due to his pace and defensive responsibility. In the hole behind Chhetri (as striker), Fernandes and Michael will compete for a starting berth. The attacking midfielder will have the most important role in all three formations, as he will need to link every attacking move and also feed Chhetri.

Probable Lineups

Curacao

Eloy Room (GK), Cuco Martina, Shermar Martina, Darryl Lachman, Jurich Carolina, Leandro Bacuna, Shermaine Martina, Jafar Arias, Jarchinio Antonio, Elson Hooi, Gervane Kasteneer.

India

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Adil Khan, Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Fernandes, Sahal Abdul Samad, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri.

Coaches’ Corner

Remko Bicentini (Curacao)

“The Indian Team has a new Coach on board who will understandably transfer his ideas to the team. A number of good players are currently playing in India including Sandesh Jhingan, and Sunil Chhetri. We will certainly take that into account,” said the Curacao head coach.

To know more, read: I expect an open competition in our first match against India- Curacao Head Coach Remko Bicentini

“India is a very good team right now. Having recently appointed a new coach they have also shown great teamwork.”

To know more, read: Igor Stimac pleased with India’s quality, Remko Bicentini wary of Blue Tigers

Igor Stimac (India)

“We need to play that football which will get us results. I have seen some quick passing and movements in my team which is really good. I am saying we are going to try, but how successful we are going to be that’s another thing,” said the new India gaffer.

To know more, read: Igor Stimac pleased with India’s quality, Remko Bicentini wary of Blue Tigers

Watch: Isac Doru and Igor Stimac’s first press conference in India

Players’ To Watch

Leandro Bacuna (Curacao)

The midfielder will be coming into this tournament with bittersweet memories after facing relegation with Cardiff City in the Premier League.

The 27-year-old will be very important for his side and will need to win the battle in the middle of the park, when up against the likes of Halder or Khan. His physical presence will be intimidating and he could also be the game-changer for his side with his box-to-box skills.

Brandon Fernandes (India)

Watch: Brandon Fernandes’ media interaction during the national camp in Delhi

Obviously, Chhetri will be India’s main man, but this time we have decided to go with someone who is very underrated, in the guise of Brandon Fernandes. The FC Goa lad’s call-up to the national team was beckoning and has finally happened after Stimac’s arrival.

The youngster is an amazing midfielder and has developed a lot under Sergio Lobera. His dribbling skills and vision will be a huge asset for India and he could very well receive a starting spot too!

Players’ Corner

Sunil Chhetri

“He is somebody, who believes in Total Football. He wants us to be very strong while defending and also to be very brave while attacking.”

– Sunil Chhetri on Igor Stimac (Click here to read what the India skipper had to say, Igor Stimac believes in Total Football- Sunil Chhetri)

Rahul Bheke

“I am very delighted to be called up to India’s national camp. For me, my real work starts now. I am really looking forward to learn from a very experienced coach, and also to get into the team.”

– Rahul Bheke (Click here to read what the India skipper had to say, I will play wherever Igor Stimac wants me to- Rahul Bheke)

Watch: Bheke’s media interaction ahead of the King’s Cup

Michael Soosairaj

“His style of playing is one-touch, two-touch coordination. Like when to attack and when to defend.”

– Michael Soosairaj on Igor Stimac (Click here to read what the India skipper had to say, Tim Cahill was very happy about my India call up- Michael Soosairaj)

Watch: Soosairaj’s media interaction in Delhi ahead of the King’s Cup

Brandon Fernandes

“The key was to play consistently, something which I did last season.”

– Brandon Fernandes (Click here to read what the India skipper had to say, I will try and help the national team to score more goals- Brandon Fernandes)

What To Expect

India could probably start with a defensive approach, which could lead to a cagey first half, with Curacao attacking right from kick-off. After slowly adjusting, the Blue Tigers could get more adventurous with Chhetri leading the line.

Although, the predictions are on the side of Curacao, Stimac will need to create a tactical masterclass with a rather revamped India squad. The backline will need to be very aware against the raw pace of Curacao. Also, Curacao have European experience on their side, which could prove to be the most decisive factor in the game.

In terms of the final scoreline, the match could either be a goalfest in Curacao favour, or narrow win in India’s side. 

When is the India vs Curacao King’s Cup 2019 match?

The India vs Curacao King’s Cup 2019 match will be played on Wednesday, June 05, 2019. It will be hosted in Buriram’s Chang Arena.

What times does the India vs Curacao King’s Cup 2019 match being?

The India vs Curacao King’s Cup 2019 match will kick-off at 2 PM Indian Standard Time

Which TV channels will broadcast the match

Fans can catch all the LIVE action from the match on Star Sports 3 and Hotstar with kick-off stated for 2pm IST on Wednesday.