World Cup Qualifiers: Stimac ready to the Afghanistan challenge
by Shubham Sharma
Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac said on Wednesday that the team is determined to give the
best on the pitch against a good opponent in the form of Afghanistan. The fact that the team will be
playing in tough conditions will not be an excuse for the team to not do well going into the fixture.
The Blue Tigers boss felt that although Afghanistan players do not play in the top leagues of Europe,
playing in the continent always improves the quality anyway.
" We both faced Qatar and we both played against Bangladesh, and I think both India and Afghanistan
have similar qualities. I see the Afghanistan team as a strong and physical side with some of the players
gaining experience in Europe. Of course, not the top leagues, but playing in Europe gives you an extra
quality," the gaffer explained.
The former Croatian defender was not hesitant to state that the opponents will be a tough challenge for
the side, but that the team will give their best on the pitch.
" They have composure, they have the stamina, and it's not going to be an easy game for us. We know
how important the game is and we did as much as we could to rest our players because most of the
players played last on the 10th before travelling. We are very happy that people back home in India are
following us with lots of passion, they have a lot of expectations and we will do our best to make them
proud," he added.
Stimac further added that he is in the process of changing the gameplay of the national team keeping in
mind the 2026 World Cup.
" Since then (the Asian Cup), we have adopted a totally different approach to the football we play.
Before I took over the team, India was playing with six players at the back, going for long balls and
trying to attack with four players up front. I was brought into position to change that and we are in the
process of building up a new Indian team for the future and we are concentrating on the World Cup
2026. It's a long process and a difficult one," he stated.
The former West Ham defender cited examples of the games against Oman and Qatar showing how the
team has improved during his tenure and that the team is now in a position to play well against difficult
" We have shown against Oman (2-1 loss), that we can play against a difficult team and it was a fantastic
game. We went to Qatar (0-0) and kept a clean sheet. I think Afghanistan (losing 5-0) knows how
difficult it is against the Asian champions."
" And our last game against Bangladesh (1-1) was not at that level than the first two but totally a
different game because we were in a position to continuously attack a side who were playing with 10
players in front of their box. 74 per cent ball possession, 17 shots, some very good chances and I was
happy about our plan execution but not happy to let Bangladesh two clear chances. That was the bad
part of our game and we are working on resolving our issues."
Amidst injuries causing setbacks to the team as important players like Sandesh Jhingan and Amarjit
Singh has been forced out, the boss said he was pleased to have Pronay Halder back in the side as the
defensive midfielder has recovered from his injuries.
" India is still not a team who can replace some important players immediately. We lost the most
important man in our backline (Sandesh Jhingan) and one of the best central midfield players (Amarjit
Kiyam) and it's not easy to replace such players. So we suffer a little bit with these injuries but now I am
happy that Pronay (Halder) is back in the team," he said.
Igor Stimac explained how games against minnows are the ones which turn out to be most difficult as
the pressure to earn full points remain even before the players take the field as compared to the ones
against stronger opponents.
" The most difficult games are those games when the people who are following you write down the
points before that game starts. When you go to play against Qatar, there is nothing to lose. But when
you go to play against Bangladesh, everybody has put three points on the table (for India) before the
game started. Against Qatar and Oman, you know that you have to defend and counter-attack. Against
Bangladesh, they counter-attack you."
The coach explained the difficulties of the national team, where there is not enough time for the players
to train together.
" And it is not a club where you get training sessions with players everybody to develop a style of
football. We get the players five days before a game. We can rest them, talk to them and analyse an
opponent. That's all. We did not lose two points against Bangladesh but we won one point. We showed
character, a fight and stamina to score a late equaliser. It was pressure on our young team to play in
front of such a big crowd. We came back and it was not easy," he explained.
The former World Cupper said that in spite of the tricky draw against a good opponent in a tough
condition at Dushanbe, the team cannot go for excuses and will have to give it all on the pitch to earn
the full points.
" We respect Afghanistan. The game they played against Bangladesh was interesting to me. They showed
composure throughout the 90 minutes. Stable game with a clear idea. They controlled the game and
defended well during set-pieces. They have stamina and they’ll pose a tough challenge for us."
" Apart from the Afghanistan team which is our primary obstacle we have two other obstacles. We are
coming from Delhi where it is 30 degrees (celsius), and here it is a bit colder. The artificial turf is another
thing. But it will be the same for Afghanistan as well. So we cannot find excuses. We need to accept
them and pass through them. We are concentrating more on what we need to do to fulfil our job," he