The India national team is set to take part in two international friendlies against Oman (March 25) and UAE (March 29) ahead of their 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualification matches in June.
As many as 10 players have been handed their maiden call-up to the senior national team camp and head coach Igor Stimac has highlighted a long term project under the aegis of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
What Igor Stimac said
"The national team coach's job is always to start from scratch, especially in such a pandemic situation. We (the AIFF) were putting in so many efforts to make the players ready for more games but everything was destroyed with this pandemic.
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"As a national team coach, I have to rely on the form of the players. The players were well aware of what they need to do to become a candidate in the team. There are many new players and they need to know what is expected of them," he emphasised.
The Croat isn't concerned about the lack of experience of the potential debutants for the Blue Tigers.
"Obviously, we are not going to put all of them (together in the first team). We need to provide minutes for them systematically. They are our future and they have shown in the past (recently concluded) season that they can play good football. I just hope that most of them will use this chance to settle better and they will become a continuous part of the national team in the future," Stimac maintained.
Who can fill Sunil Chhetri's boots?
India skipper Sunil Chhetri has been ruled out of the camp as he tested positive for Coronavirus before the squad travelled to Dubai. The only other strikers in the squad are Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita.
While Manvir has been mostly used in a wide role at ATK Mohun Bagan, Pandita has only had cameo roles wherein the FC Goa forward has scored four times in little over 100 minutes.
"The best thing is if there could be 11 strikers in the squad. This year we only have Sunil Chhetri who was playing as a striker after the change of positions (at Bengaluru) and Ishan who came on for a few minutes and scored some wonderful goals. We need to have much more trust in Indian players,' the India coach continued.
"The best example is Hyderabad who played with many Indian players in the absence of foreigners for many games and still didn't suffer (in terms of results). The U-17 team which was part of the U-17 World Cup with all that planning and structuring from the beginning is showing results," he added.
A young midfield
With players such as Lalengmawia, Bipin Singh, Liston Colaco and Suresh Wangjam among others making it to the camp, Stimac attributed their selection to the type of football at their clubs.
"Most of the players we chose have played in clubs who have played creative football. They were not afraid to play football. This is the kind of football we (India) started playing when I took over this team and that is why it could be easier for these players to adapt to the style of play here.
"We are trying to work on a long term plan here and that's what it takes to become successful over time," he mooted. "This is our base which we are going to work with and I'm sure that in a few years time we can expect much better results."
What to expect from Oman and UAE friendlies?
Oman and UAE are ranked 81st and 74th in the world, respectively, as compared to India (104). However, results are not the priority for the India gaffer.
"I expect our players to get more experience. We are not obsessed with the result. I want the players to feel free and getting experience is the most important thing at the moment. We saw Oman's game against Jordan (0-0 draw in a recent friendly) where they (Oman) were not taking many risks and we need to find a way to match that style of play," Stimac pointed.
With only a berth in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to play for amid the ongoing Asian qualifiers, he mentioned, "I expect to have to have enough time by end of April and May to work with the team."
Igor Stimac has been India's head coach since the 2019 King's Cup in Thailand. Aside from the 1-0 victory of the hosts in that tournament, the Blue Tigers haven't won a game since.
"When I was watching the past games, sometimes I cried. The last game against Oman (1-0 loss) was supposed to prove to be the turning point whether we are going to fight for the first spot or second. Some decisions let us down or tiredness which showed that some players were not ready for 90 minutes of football.
"When you play against Bangladesh or Afghanistan, there is a lot of pressure because those games put you in a favourite position. We created chances but have not been effective in scoring goals. Our intention is to play and not to chase and that's what we are working on. Let's see the kind of work we produce with these young guys and hope the future is bright," the 53-year-old concluded.