India return to international football after a gap of more than a year when they face Oman in a friendly match in Dubai on Thursday and coach Igor Stimac said that the long break means that he has had to start from scratch with the team.
India’s last match was in November 2019, by which time Stimac was only six months into the job. “As a national coach, any tournament is always a start from scratch. But in this case it has been difficult, we had big plans for the past season but all plans were destroyed by the pandemic. So we start from scratch against Oman," said Stimac in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
In addition to their match against Oman, India will also be facing the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on March 29. Both matches are taking place in Dubai. While captain and talisman Sunil Chhetri will not be playing the matches after testing positive for Covid-19 just a week before the team left India, Stimac has selected as many as 10 players in the 27-man squad who are yet to make their international debut. When asked about his expectations from the two games, the former Croatian centre-back said that he expects the team to play freely.
“I expect our players to get more experience no more. We are not obsessed with the result. The players have to feel free an express themselves and not feel any pressure, getting experience is the most important thing in these matches," said Stimac.
Defender Sandesh Jhingan, meanwhile, said that Oman and the UAE should look at India as tough opponents. India suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Oman in Guwahati in September 2019 in a World Cup qualifier and Jhinghan felt that it was a match they should have won. “I think Oman and UAE will also look at us as tough opponents. I think we deserved to win against Oman in Guwahati. 10-15 years ago I don’t think Oman or UAE would be wanting to play friendly with us. But that has changed now," he said.