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Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeOther SportsIndia's football team is back in play, after a disappointing Asian Cup

India’s football team is back in play, after a disappointing Asian Cup


Igor Stimac and company want to impress against Afghanistan

Croatian coach knows that magical land for Indian football will be making it to the next stage of the World Cup qualifiers after almost neglecting the continental tournament.

For the Indian national football squad, a World Cup qualifying Round 2 matchup against Afghanistan might not seem like the ultimate test. But what really sets this match apart in the context of Indian football is the coach Igor Stimac’s high expectations for both this match and the other World Cup qualifiers. The match takes place in the neutral city of Abha, Saudi Arabia.

Significant sacrifices have been made for these World Cup qualifiers. Stimac repeatedly neglected the Asian Cup, the largest competition for which the Indian squad might qualify, throughout the preceding year. In fact, it was at a press conference following the 0-3 World Cup qualifier loss to Qatar that the Croatian infamously claimed that he was virtually ignoring the tournament since he knew the national team would not have the four weeks required for a camp. In the same press conference, he declared that the third round of World Cup qualifiers will be India’s enchanted land.

While the country has never advanced to the third round of the WCQ, the level of competition and skill at that level has served as a de facto rallying cry for the national squad. Finishing in the top two of their group, which includes Qatar, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, and playing 10 games against high-quality Asian opponents now looks like a lot better return on investment than a three-game run at the Asian Cup, which may have resulted in a timid Round-of-16 exit.

In this aspect, India has done fairly well. They may have lost to Qatar, but their 1-0 away victory over Kuwait, due to a Manvir Singh goal, puts them in a far better position to finish second in their group. However, that scenario implies two victories against Afghanistan, at home and away, which, if recent history is to be followed, is easier said than done.

India has met Afghanistan three times in the last five years, with two of the games ending in a 1-1 draw. India won 2-1, thanks to a late goal in Kolkata. Clearly, FIFA rankings and perceptions are useless in this scenario, as both teams frequently play close matches, with India marginally shading the results.

However, Stimac appears to have moved on from the Afghanistan games, stating that it is the games that follow that are important.

“Each game is essential in terms of self-confidence and standings. However, our first focus and ultimate goal is to qualify for Round 3. There are other ways to get there, and nothing will be decided during the next two games. “The games in June against Kuwait and Qatar will tell us everything,” Stimac stated.

The scheduling of this match is also against Stimac and the Indians. Historically, the 56-year-old has motivated the national team to be its finest version only after lengthy national camps in which he has frequently alluded to cleaning up his players’ local league records in order for them to be a successful international team. India has barely had over five training sessions together for this match and will face a side that held a training camp at this site a few months ago and also played a practice friendly. Afghanistan may have suffered heavy losses to Qatar and Kuwait, but a recurrence of similar events is unlikely late Thursday evening.

Ashley Westwood is not unfamiliar with Afghanistan. Westwood, who is well-known for his excellent tenure at Bengaluru FC, brings extensive understanding of Indian football as well as what may be the team’s weak points. Captain Sunil Chhetri noted the presence of the Brit and stated, “They will play as a unit, they will be aggressive, and they will know exactly what they have to do because that is how Ashley Westwood is.” But I believe it is really about us. We’re right in the heart of Saudi Arabia, and we really need to recover from what occurred in the Asian Cup. It will be difficult. “We must show up.”



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