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Asian Cup qualifiers: India will succeed only if we prepare from now, says Igor Stimac

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Mumbai, Oct 19 (IANS) India has qualified for the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup football championships, but chief coach Igor Stimac says further progress in the event will depend on how much time the national team will get for preparation for the Important games.

“If we make sure that we get enough time to prepare for the games, then we might expect good football and good results. Otherwise, we’re going to gamble. As simple as that because our players will start twice a season now,” said Stimac during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.

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India have made it to the third round via the joint 2022 World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers. In the 2022 World Cup qualification programme, Stimac’s India started with a 1-2 home loss to Oman but earned a point after holding the 2019 Asian Champion and 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar to a credible draw.

However, in the remaining matches, India only managed draws against much lower-ranked teams – Bangladesh at home and Afghanistan away. The team also went on to lose to Oman and Qatar, as well as gaining only a draw over Afghanistan with their only win in the qualification being, a 2-0 win against neighbour Bangladesh, to finish in third place with only six points gained. Though India did not qualify for the 2022 World Cup, it was the highest position the country gained since the 2002 qualification. It also guaranteed India a place in the third round of qualifiers for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

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The third round of qualifiers will be held in February 2022 and Stimac said that they have to put together a proper plan for the event.

“Who are we going to play against, we don’t know our group yet. But obviously, we need to prepare ourselves because our first game will be on February 1, 2022. And if we want to succeed in such qualifiers, which we are going to play out of the FIFA window — because the February schedule is not part of the FIFA window — then we need to prepare now.

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“We need to sit down with other stakeholders in our domestic competitions and discuss how much time the national team will get for preparation for these Important games. If we make sure that we get enough time to prepare for the games, then we might expect good football and good results. Otherwise, we’re going to gamble. As simple as that because our players will start twice a season now.

“And as far as I’m concerned, we need to make sure as soon as possible that we consider this February opening stage of the third round of qualifiers as important. We have to make sure that all the players are released from the clubs for this game,” he said.

–IANS

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