AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: National Team Head Coach Igor Stimac said that the Blue Tigers view the forthcoming international friendlies as extremely crucial to gauge where we stand as they head to the AFC Asian Cup Final Round qualifiers in June.
The Blue Tigers, currently in a preparatory camp in Pune, are scheduled to play Bahrain on March 23, and Belarus on March 26 – with both matches kicking-off at IST 9.30 pm.
“We are happy that in such circumstances, we can get together again. We are looking ahead to the International Friendlies. The last two years haven’t been easy, and life has been hard. But this is no time to complain, and we are looking ahead,” Stimac mentioned.
“We are playing Bahrain and Belarus, and they are better-ranked sides than us. But whatever the rankings are, you need to do it on the pitch. Bahrain will show us where we stand. We will give chances to some young players who have played well in the Hero ISL this season to see how much we can use them for the qualifiers in June,” he added.
“We look to perform well in the forthcoming two matches. We need to make sure that we zero down on the best combination for the qualifiers in June.”
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stressed the two friendly matches present a ‘great opportunity’.
“This is a great opportunity against good teams. We are not in any position to take things lightly in the June qualifiers – be it Cambodia, Afghanistan or Hong Kong,” he mentioned.
Speaking on the non-availability of talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet felt, “We need to take it as a challenge. We need to learn to play when he isn’t there. We cannot be too dependent – this is a team sport after all. He has been phenomenal for us and surely, it’s a huge miss,” he stressed.
Referring to the ongoing camp, Stimac informed that the team is having special seasons with the goalkeepers. “The goalkeepers have been inconsistent this season. I already spoke to Gurpreet and he is aware that the season has not gone well. But Gurpreet is one of the best goalkeepers in Asia, and I am confident of him, and all of them. We are already into the training process,” the coach expressed.
Stimac also made a mention of Roshan Singh and VP Suhair, who have impressed him the season, and also in the ongoing camp. “Roshan has been very consistent and has been playing without fear. He has been making great crosses with inch-perfect precision. That’s something which we need. We need those wide players who are capable enough to cover the line,” he said.
“At the same time, VP Suhair has been extremely hard working. Individually, he is a responsible player, and both on and off the ball he has been brilliant. He is one of the players who falls back defensively, and someone who can also put the ball in the net,” the coach opined. “Someone who has also been wonderful this season is Sahal. He has got the creativity, that touch, and understands football.”
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