India head coach Igor Stimac is quietly confident that his team is capable of competing against teams outside the top eight in Asia.
The Indian men’s football team under the guidance of Stimac qualified for the AFC Asian Cup with three wins out of three in the third round of qualifiers as the team beat Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong scoring eight goals and shipping just one in return.
The Croatian believes that India, ranked 19th in Asia, can more than hold its own against most teams in the AFC Asian Cup next year and can qualify for the knockout stages (Round of 16) of the competition for the first time in its history.
“At the moment, we can play equal games with all those teams who are there from eighth position in Asian ranking to upto the position where we stand,” Stimac told The Times of India during an online interaction.
“I am not saying we can dominate these games, that wouldn’t be true. But we can find a way to win these games,” he added.
The Blue Tigers missed out on making the cut to the next stage of the competition in 2019 by a whisker when they were undone by a late penalty against Bahrain. The 0-1 loss meant India finished fourth in their group and failed to qualify for the Round of 16 despite winning their opening match 4-1 against Thailand.
In 2011, India had lost all three matches in their group. Thus, Stimac has stressed that it’s important for India to break this hurdle and compete in the knockout stage of the competition.
“When the Asian Cup happens, we need to make sure that we find a way of going through the group. We can do that. Once that happens, everything is possible. It’s 90 minutes and in football, anything can happen,” Stimac said.
India have around a year to prepare for the AFC Asian Cup and the longer domestic calendar with the Durand Cup, the Hero ISL and the Super Cup which is being planned is certain to have the Blue Tigers in good shape for the competition.
The Croatian coach is also looking to maximise the international windows in between the season to get his team prepared.
“We will look for similar or better opponents. We have to see which teams are available,” Stimac said.
Stimac also urged that the friendly games be staged in India, so that the team which has been devoid of matches on home soil due to the Covid-19 pandemic can feel the love of the support.
“I am also insisting now to have teams come to India. We have had enough travelling around and not having a chance to play 50 percent of the friendly games on home soil. We need to use these games to promote football in the country. We need to visit other states, other locations, and not just where football is already popular,” said Stimac.