India head coach Igor Stimac has stated that results in the upcoming Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad will be secondary as he looks to prepare the squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in September.
The Blue Tigers begin the defence of their crown on Sunday when they take on Tajikistan in the tournament opener in what is the second assignment for Stimac since taking over as coach.
“Of course, I do not want to disappoint anyone. This is the chance for me to invite everyone and watch our games in the tournament. I would love to see many people in the stadium watching and supporting the Indian team because they deserve it. We have a new team and so many young players,” the Croatian stated on the eve of the tournament opener.
“If you talk about defending the trophy, I do not think about it. We think about how to progress in our game and how to advance in certain aspects which will help us in the World Cup qualifiers. That’s what we are focused on.
“At any time, I will not put any kind of pressure on my players with regards to results in the tournament. I would rather watch how my players are advancing on few points like reacting to second balls, trying to play short passes, move well and make runs behind the defenders.
“No pressure about the results. Of course, we come here to win it. Don’t get me wrong. But that’s not the first point I am looking for.”
Although he has high expectations from the team, Stimac believes it will take a long and focused process to get India back among the top Asian teams.
“It’s a long process. It is not only about the coach and the players. It is about changing few things between the AIFF (All India Football Federation), ISL (Indian Super League) and I-League. It is about starting to work with youth leagues, it’s about improving infrastructure,” he explained.
“It’s about changing a break which is so long, which will never allow us to become a strong force in football. It’s about changing the number of the games during the year. You cannot become a strong force playing 20 matches a year. You need to play at least 50.
“There are many points which should be discussed and changed. There are certain differences between interests. There is only one main force of interest and that is the national team. Football is played so that the national team can become strong and get good results. Everyone needs to work towards that favour.”
One of the aspects Stimac feels India can change is by allowing overseas players of Indian origin to play for the country’s national team.
“If everyone country is allowing players of its origin to have second passports and play for the country, why shouldn’t we do that. I already received seven or eight names of Indian players who are abroad,” Stimac stated.
“Their parents are Indians and have Indian passports. They are ready to sacrifice and play for India. We should start thinking about it. I am not a politician so I am not getting into that but we need help from each side so that we can become a strong force again and that is one of the points,” he added.
The Croatian is not making any guarantees when it comes to India potentially qualifying for the World Cup in the near future but insists that the future remains bright.
“Football is so beautiful that it can surprise all of us. I wish it becomes one of the nice surprises for us in the qualifiers. But I will not make promises, I will do my best on a daily basis. Talking to my players, teaching them, making changes and giving everything to advance their game. Is it going to be enough? We don’t know,” he explained.
“There is a very short time we spent together working. After the Intercontinental Cup, I will not have a chance to see them before the end of August right before we start the qualifiers. Time is short, we are trying to use it as well as we can and not waste a single second.
“You can see that we are introdcuing so many young players in the team and them having their debuts in Thailand in the King’s Cup. It shows that we are thinking of the future of Indian football.”
One key area that the Croatian will simply not compromise on is the style of play for the national team.
“Before coming here, I did my research and made my analysis of Mr. Stephen’s (Constantine) good results, great results and the unhappiness of the media and supporters with the style of play.
“I think we play football for supporters. We play football to make you guys happy. We are going to try to do that. Even if the results suffer, we will try to do that. Even getting results and not making fans satisfied means nothing. That is why we trying to putting so many new young players with good technical abilities.
“We are trying to change the style of the game. It will take time and is a slow process. But I am quite convinced when I see how quick our players are learning and how excited they are about the work. I am so happy and I feel we can do great things from here.”
Defender Sandesh Jhingan will be key to India’s backline in the Intercontinental Cup and the Kerala Blasters man is keeping his eyes trained on September’s World Cup qualifying clashes.
“I think everyone is very motivated for this tournament. We played two games in the King’s Cup and then had a little break before getting back for training again. We have plans and we have worked on it,” said Jhingan.
“The motivation is right there and these are good games to play. The main thing is the World Cup qualifiers in September, you know, thinking about that dream to qualify for the World Cup,” he added to conclude.