India winning the SAFF Championships for the eighth time is not a “special achievement” as the country is dominant in the South Asian region and the main goal is to do well in qualifying for the Cup. Asia 2023, said national football team head coach Igor Stimac. Wednesday.
India won the regional tournament after beating Nepal 3-0 in the final in Male on Saturday to hand Stimac his first trophy as team manager.
“I don’t consider it (the SAFF title) to be a particular success because it is normal for India to win when it goes to SAFF but it shows that we are very dominant in this competition and that we can progress a lot more in our game. , ”Stimac said during a virtual interaction.
He admitted, however, that his side were under a lot of “results pressure” after drawing against Bangladesh (1-1) and Sri Lanka (0-0) in the opening two round robin matches. The results put India in danger of going off the rails for the final.
India went on to beat Nepal 1-0 to host the Maldives 3-1 in must-see matches before dominating the Himalayan country 3-0 in the summit clash to mark their authority.
“It was obviously a difficult situation which we found after the first two matches, but they looked bad only because of the results. There was not much difference in approach, numbers and statistics. , we had enough shots, scoring opportunities, movement and energy from the players.
“We sometimes scored and sometimes we didn’t and that made the difference. So we had a lot of pressure on the results but we handled it the way it should and in the end we won the trophy which was really important.
Stimac was speaking from Bengaluru after his return from the Maldives and he leaves for Dubai on Tuesday night with the U-23 national team, which he took charge of for the 2022 Asian U-23 Championship qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates. from 25 to 31 October.
The Croatian gaffer said the team’s goal is to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup for which the third qualifying round is expected to start in early February next year.
This could be tricky as the Asian Cup qualifiers would be outside FIFA’s window and the federation will have to convince the Indian Super League organizers and clubs to release the players for national duty.
“We don’t yet know who we’re going to play against, we don’t know our squad yet. But we have to prepare because we have been told that our first game will be on February 1.
“If we want to be successful in this qualifying match which are games to be played outside the FIFA window, we have to sit down with the other stakeholders of the domestic competitions (read ISL), how long do the players of the national team will they have to prepare. “
ISL organizers have published the league’s first leg matches from November 19 to January 9. They have yet to announce the return matches.
He said the national team would need a good preparation time to produce good results in the Asian Cup qualifying matches.
“Otherwise we’ll play, that easy,” he joked.
“Because the players are going to start the ISL season now and we need to make sure as soon as possible that the opening in February of the third round of qualifying (for the Asian Cup) is on the ISL calendar so that the players be released for the duty of the national team. . “
Stimac also praised talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri, who at 37 is one of the team’s fittest players.
“His influence keeps the team going. He is a role model and a leader on and in the field. He is the most passionate player in the locker room and his level of fitness is incredible.
“He’s in the best possible shape and that’s why he’s played in every game (of the SAFF championships). When someone who can score better and who is in better physical shape (arrives), only then can he be replaced, otherwise you cannot replace him and he continues to play until he is with the team .
Chhetri has scored five of India’s eight goals to become the top player and top scorer in the Maldives regional tournament.
He was named MVP for the third time in as many appearances in the tournament, with the first cases occurring in 2011 and 2015.
He was the top scorer of the 2011 edition in New Delhi with seven goals while finishing second with three goals in the 2015 tournament in Thiruvananthapuram. India has won all three editions Chhetri has played.