A RevSportz Exclusive
The 1-0 victory in Kuwait City last week was India’s first in an away World Cup qualifier in more than two decades. On Tuesday evening, Qatar, the Champions of Asia, arrive at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar fresh from an 8-1 hammering of Afghanistan. How India play in front of a packed house could well dictate their World Cup destiny. Ahead of the game, Igor Stimac, India’s coach, spoke to Boria Majumdar, RevSportz editor-in-chief, about the Kuwait result and how he and those around him have to keep faith in the process. Excerpts:
Boria: Coach, do you not believe the win against Kuwait in an away game has set this group up for India?
Stimac: Yes, you are absolutely right. That is the most important game in our qualifying group. Playing an away game against your opponents for the second position in the group –
as we all know, Qatar is the favorite in our group, being a champion side and the team which has strength, power, and speed in all positions, as well as having bench strength. It is very important for us to not let euphoria take us away from the path we have taken, and the hard work and sacrifices we are putting into our work.
Boria: While it is absolutely fine and realistic that we will not get too far ahead of ourselves, it was still a very important win. We did not have much preparation time, and we were not fit enough in comparison to where we were in May, June, and July. However, we still showed enough fight to go on and win. Is it right to say this?
Stimac: You are absolutely right. What I pointed out to our players after the game was one aspect that was really important to me. Going out in Kuwait to play fearless football, with the high press and whatever we had in our legs at the moment, and not many days of preparation. But playing with a consistent high press, medium press, and playing aggressively, not getting booked throughout the 90 minutes, was the main priority. Which would result in making the opposition nervous and out of their comfort zone, making them do silly things at the end of the day.
Boria: The home support is sold out. Set this match up for me, and how will it make a difference?
Stimac: We are really proud that we have created this environment that is bringing so much interest to Indian football. Sold-out stadiums, and everyone’s expectations are rising very high. However, we cannot control what is happening with the audience, the weather, the crowd, or even the euphoria. The only thing we can control is our performance, and all I will ask the players is to enjoy their football and do their best, as it’s the only aspect we can control. There is a positive environment in our dressing room after the win, and we have a strong belief and are aware there is a chance. The crowd will help lift us to another level which might bring us another victory.
What to expect, how important was the Kuwait win, how much will the crowd… pic.twitter.com/kZB4sy5IkF
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Boria: The Kuwait win has all of a sudden brought positivity back into the dressing room. Giving more preparation time to the national team could provide us with a chance to qualify from this group. Am I right to say this?
Stimac: You are right, and that is exactly what I have told you. We can go there with this bunch of boys. I am not sure why after five years of really hard work, sweat, blood, and suffering, and without being supported, people come after my boys. Many people, after one defeat, start doubting the process which is really painful and hard to understand, but I do not think such individuals are really supportive towards the national team. We need people around us who have the same beliefs as we do. It is as simple as that.
Boria: A word on Manvir? He got a lot of flak, but his performances in the ISL and the goal the other day should give him a lot of confidence.
Stimac: Yes, absolutely. As I say, when I watch the comments from the outside and how people see the football, then I start doubting myself at times, if I am right. When too many people are harsh on our players, then I need to reconsider what I am doing and whether I am too emotional on some of them or not. I analyse everything and come back to the same thought, which is backing our boys. We have no other options or tools for all players. We have only 50- 60 players playing in the top Indian leagues, and if you have in mind that 20 percent of them are out of form or not good enough to compete for the national team, then we cannot keep changing the players in such a way. We cannot accept inviting players to the national team after one brilliant goal. It does not work that way and is a massive process. Understanding what it takes to be a part of the national team is very different from what most individuals believe. I have a lot of boys who I trust and who I believe will produce for the national team.
Boria: Tell me about the replacements, and are you happy with what they produced in Kuwait and how they have come into the team?
Stimac: We can look at that particular game in two ways. I think we allowed Kuwait only half a chance. Defensively, the job was done perfectly. Offensively, I was not very happy about it as there were many missed passes and too much decision-making without any clarity or purpose. To expect more and do more, we need to be much better.
Boria: What will be a realistic result against Qatar? We will give it our best and the effort is in our hands. If we put in our all, who knows what will happen?
Stimac: A joined connection of the brain and heart together will help us get the final result. The result is not something I put in front of the players. The focus should just be on doing your best and leaving everything on the pitch. It is all about enjoying and celebrating football.