Cannot speak about realistic target for Asian Cup before December: Igor Stimac

Bhubaneswar, Jun 3 (PTI) At 38, Sunil Chhetri remains a prized asset in the final third and among the fittest in the Indian football team, but his much younger colleagues in defence “dancing around balls” is a cause for concern for head coach, Igor Stimac.

Alongside brain, Stimac indicated he would do with a slice of brawn in his defenders. Four weeks of preparation time was on Saturday described as ideal by Stimac for the Asian Cup, for which the Croat said he will not be abe to set a realistic target before December.

The continental showpiece is scheduled to be held in January-February next year in Qatar, where India has been clubbed alongside heavyweights Australia, Syria and Uzbekistan.

“There is no realistic target. It’s more about real chances for us. We can speak in December when we find out how much time we’re going to get for the operation, then I can be more realistic from this point of view.

“I cannot tell you about stages… For the Asian Cup, India never was placed better than the bottom of the group. So whatever we achieved, that we will be achievement, I would say,” Stimac said during a virtual press conference.

India were knocked out in the group stage in their last two appearances in the tournament in 2011 and 2019 respectively.

When discussions turned to his veteran striker and captain Sunil Chhetri, Stimac said he remains one of the fittest players in his squad after nearly two decades of top-flight football.

“Sunil has always been a role model and a leader in every sense for the boys and girls. But he’s not only talking, he’s showing that with his test results once again.

“In this camp, he was in top-five positions in all the tests we executed. So that’s the best way of leading the team and showing them how much it can be done. Never mind the age, never mind the month or the year, so let alone what he speaks what he does on the pitch and how he works. That’s what is the most important thing.” There are still eight months left for the Asian Cup and Stimac said in this period the team is looking to improve its finishing, passing, pattern in the final third, and also the build-up.

“Before the Asian Cup, India will pay some tournaments — Merdeka Cup, Intercontinental Cup.

“There is the U-23, then there is the Merdeka Cup in October, then we are starting the World Cup qualifiers. Asian Cup prospects will depend on December preparations because things are changing on a daily basis. It depends on who are in form, who are in best position in December, they (players) are coming after a long domestic season behind. They need to stay in form and enter the Asian Cup on a positive note.” India are set to play Mongolia (June 9), Vanuatu (June 12), and Lebanon (June 15) in the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, with the final slated to take place on June 18.

Asked about the quality of opponents they are playing in the lead-up to the Asian Cup, he said, “All these matches are going to help us face teams like Australia and Syria. Okay, why are we are not playing better-ranked sides because we did not have time to find better opponents as there was a change of guard within the federation.

“For improvements, we need to find better opponents and challenge yourself and see where we stand. We are happy with the arrangement considering that the in past 12 months, we have played eight games… it’s a huge achievement.” The extreme climate is another factor that played a role in having 26 players in his squad.

“We are doing rotation because of heat and humidity. With such heat and humidity we can’t play same 11 in each game, that is why we have 26 players. We are already rotating the players game to game and trying to keep them fresh.” Stimac said the recently-appointed sports psychologist — Shayamal Vallabhjee — is helping the team on many counts.

“We are working on mental side, building mental strength. We have an experienced sports psychologist to improve the players’ mental strength, to help them open up and improve their overall abilities.

“He is providing lectures on meditation, helping to fine-tune players’ minds apart from training in the fields, which can help them improve their game.” He added, “We are looking to strengthen each position in the team. Full-backs positions are widely open and we need more physical and metal strength in these positions. Defending is a problem, it is about understanding how to close out these gaps. We are just dancing around the balls and players are easily putting in the crosses.

“We will try various things in the Intercontinental Cup, these games are perfect for trying out things.” When asked on what basis he picks his team, he said, “I am not selecting players only based on actual form, I do have precise data about what certain players can do for us.” Stimac said India is missing the services of attacking mid-fielder Brandon Fernandes, who has taken leave on personal grounds.

“With Brandon not available, it’s an opportunity for others. Brandon is a very important part of our team, he sends in the crosses leading to most of the goals for us. He brings a certain individual class. We are going to miss him.” As far as the lack of enough new Indian forwards are concerned, Stimac reiterated, “Indian strikers not getting enough game time in domestic league remains a concern. Until we stop foreign players in Indian leagues, until we have a specific criteria on that .. it’s not going to help.”

Source: PTI News


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