Each game will be a challenge for us, had enough time for preparation: Stimac

Bhubaneswar, Jun 8 (PTI) India’s opponents in the Intercontinental Cup may not be as tough as the ones they will come across in the AFC Asian Cup, but the invitational tournament will be good preparation for the continental showpiece, reckoned head coach Igor Stimac on Thursday.

India’s real build-up to the Asian Cup will begin with their Intercontinental Cup opener against Mongolia here on Friday. The hosts won the inaugural edition of the tournament but Korea emerged victorious in the second season, before the pandemic broke.

Both Stimac and captain Sunil Chhetri said the team has prepared well for the tournament.

“We’re expecting to win the tournament, and that’s why we’re here. We’ll do everything possible to make that happen,” Stimac said at the pre-tournament press conference.

The big target for India is the Asian Cup in Qatar in seven months’ time, and with the Blue Tigers set to play many matches until the end of this year, Stimac believes every game will count as far preparation is concerned.

Besides India and Mongolia, Lebanon and Vanuatu are the other teams participating in the tournament.

“Although our opponents (in the Hero Intercontinental Cup) are not as tough as the teams we’ll face in the Asian Cup, but they’re still good and competitive.

“Mongolia are a very aggressive side with a lot of young players in midfield and upfront. They press high and play counter-attacking football. Even though they may find it difficult to adapt to the warm weather here, their players are arriving in competitive form as the Mongolian league is going on at the moment,” said Stimac, sharing his thoughts on India’s first opponent.

India have been camping in Bhubaneswar since May 15, giving Stimac time to make a strong assessment of his squad. The team could potentially play as many as nine matches in less than a month, with the SAFF Championship also beginning on June 21 in Bengaluru.

“Each game will be a challenge for us. We’ve had enough time for preparation. We need to be physically ready for these games and take everything into our hands. Our players are here to prove that they deserve their place in the national team,” said Stimac.

“Playing at home will be a big advantage for us. I hope to see a large number of supporters cheering for us. We saw in Manipur (during Tri-Nation Cup) that when we’re surrounded by passionate fans who shower us with love, they can help us beat better-ranked teams,” the Croatian added.

India captain Chhetri cannot wait to wear the India jersey for the first time in Odisha.

“Me and the boys are very excited. It’s strange that we’ve never played in Bhubaneswar or anywhere in Odisha before in my career, so we’re really happy to be here.

“Everything from our hospitality to training pitches has been top-notch, and we’ve made good use of the three weeks here. Hopefully, we don’t have just three games here but four (including the final),” said the skipper.

Mongolia, ranked 183 in the FIFA chart, head into the meet without much expectations but with no shortage of motivation. Their Japanese head coach Ichiro Otsuka shared his thoughts on how they look to gain from the tournament.

“All the other three teams are ranked higher than us. But we will fight and try to have better games against them. We’re very motivated to showcase our football here,” he said.

In their previous friendly game against 77-ranked Georgia in March, Mongolia put up a good defensive show, holding the hosts 1-1 until half-time before eventually losing 1-6.

Against India, Otsuka expects his side to be put up a rigorous test again.

“Compared to us, the Indian team is very strong. Later this year, we’ll have our first round of the World Cup Qualifiers, where we will face higher-ranked teams. So we want to concentrate on defending first. But, of course, we also have some ideas going forward,” said the Japanese.

The warm Odisha weather is another big challenge the Mongolia side will be dealing with.

“There’s a huge difference between the weather conditions in Mongolia and India. It was snowing back there a few days ago, but it’s so hot and humid here. But we will do our best because it is a good opportunity to test ourselves against higher-ranked opponents,” said Otsuka.

Source: PTI News


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