Male (Maldives), Oct 2 (IANS) With their opponents in the first match Bangladesh and another contender Nepal starting their campaigns with a win in the SAFF Championship in the Maldives, pressure is on India to start their campaign on a winning note and maintain their chances of finishing in the top two in the five-team league and reach the final of the competition.
Bangladesh started their campaign on Friday with a solitary goal victory against Sri Lanka while Nepal defeated hosts and 2018 champions Maldives on the opening day of the competition being held under Covid-19 regulations. It was a revenge of sorts for Nepal as they had lost to the Maldives in the semi-finals in the 2018 edition. Maldives went on to beat India 2-1 in the final to win their second SAAF Championships title.
So, a couple of days before their opening match, Indian National Team Head Coach Igor Stimac stated that the Blue Tigers’won’t be approaching with any specific set plan for the SAFF Championship.
“We will be playing a style which will bring us re”ults,” he said during a virtual press conference on Saturday.
Referring to the two matches played on the inaugural day, Stimac said, “There was one counter-attack by Nepal in their match against the Maldives, and they won the game despite the Maldives being the better side. We don’t know what each game will bring to us on the plate. We will adapt to everything that is throw” at us.”
He said the team management is keeping the players ready for the challenges that will be thrown by the opponents in each match.
“We are trying to provide all necessary information to our players about our opposition and motivate ourselves. We came here four days before the tournament, and we have trained on artificial and natural grass. We are taking good care of the players, and explaining to them the possible”situations,” Stimac informed.
“The players know what I’m expecting from them, and what their duties are. So I’m very confident and excited about this tournament and I really expect to enjoy this tournament and not to have any nervousness. We are determined to represent India in a good manner and deliver what is expected from us on the pitch.”
Though their two main opponents got off to good starts, the mood in the Indian camp is upbeat and “jolly”, said talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri.
“The mood in the camp is upbeat. There is a lot of familiarity in the squad, and we gel well. The youngsters push us to the limits. Everyone is jolly and we want to put our best foot forward, and do well.”
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu feels the level of competition in the SAFF region has “def”nitely improved”.
“We saw Nepal play the Maldives, and they have definitely improved. The level of the competition has become better, and teams are aware of how to exploit an opponent’s weakness. We have to respect every te”m, and give our best.”
Stimac explained that India are missing not just defender Sandesh Jhingan, but also Rowllin Borges, and Ashqique Kuruniyan, all of whom are under rehab at the moment.
“It’s not just Sandesh alone whom we are missing. Borges has been absent for a while for the National Team, and even Ashique. But we just cannot think of that at the moment. We wish them a fast recovery and expect them to jo”n us as soon as poss”ble,” Stimac expressed.
“But we have other players here, and we need to have enough capacity to cover all the positions. Sandesh was a leader, very vocal, and he held the team together. But we need to replace him together as a team, making an e”fort throughout 90 minutes,” the coach explai”ed.
Chettri admitted that “the team needs”to improve in a lot of areas.”
“If we’re talking solely about the two games which we played against Nepal, we have to improve in a lot of areas. And that has already been talked and conveyed to us by our Head coach, and the whole coaching system,” he quipped.
“We know we could have done better in Nepal as players. And this is just me talking as a player. And whatever things that we had to work on were conveyed to us right after the game. And also now, with every passing day, we realised that every other team who probably are in the same region are also improving – which means that if we play against them, we cannot afford to be 90 percent. Not just against Nepal, but in a game against any one of them. That is one of the biggest learnings that we have learned playing Nepal in Nepal.”
“And hopefully, we will take it in our stride. Taking that forward to this tournament, we realise that there will not be a single easy game for us.”