National football team’s head coach Igor Stimac on Wednesday said India’s eighth win in the SAIF Championship is not a “special success” as the country, which dominates the South Asian region, is aiming to do well in the 2023 Asian Cup qualification. India clinched the regional tournament title after beating Nepal 3-0 in the final in Male on Saturday, Stimac’s first title as the team’s coach.
Stimac said during the virtual conversation, “I don’t consider it (the SAIF title) a special success because it is normal for India to win the SAIF tournament, but it shows that we are dominant in this competition and we can improve our game a lot. “
Stimac, however, admitted that there was a lot of pressure on his side to deliver a result after drawing draws against Bangladesh (1-1) and Sri Lanka (0-0) in the first two round-robin matches. The results of these initial matches put India in danger of being knocked out of the race for the final.
India then defeated Nepal 1–0 and hosts Maldives 3–1 in a do or die match and then went on to win the final. Stimac said, “Obviously after the first two games we were in a difficult position but things seemed to be bad only because of the results. There was no change in our attitude, shots towards the goal, chances of scoring, movement and energy of the players. “
“Sometimes we score and sometimes we don’t and that makes a difference. So the pressure was on our shoulders to deliver results but we managed to deal with it and in the end we were able to win the trophy which is most important,” he said. “
Stimac is in Bengaluru after returning from Maldives and is leaving for Dubai on Tuesday night with the U-23 national team. The team is scheduled to participate in the 2022 Asian Under 23 Championship qualifiers in the UAE from October 25 to 31. The Croatia coach said the team aims to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup, with the third round of qualifiers starting in early February next year.
The situation during the Asian Cup qualification matches will be awkward as these matches will be held outside FIFA’s international match window and the federation needs to persuade the Indian Super League (ISL) organizers and clubs to release players included in the national team.
Stimac said, “We don’t know who we are going to face, we don’t know about our group yet. We have to prepare because we have been told that our first match will be on February 1. If we are successful in this qualifier. If the matches are to be held outside the FIFA window, then we will have to sit down with other stakeholders of domestic competitions (ISL) and see how much time will be given to the players of the national team to prepare.”
The ISL organizers have released the schedule for the first leg of the league, which will be held from November 19 to January 9. The schedule for the second phase has not been released yet. Stimac said the national team would need to prepare well to get good results in the Asian Cup qualification.
Stimac also praised the charismatic captain Sunil Chhetri who is one of the fittest players in the team even at the age of 37. Chhetri scored five of India’s eight goals in the SAIF Championship and was the best player and top goal scorer of the regional tournament in Maldives. Chhetri was adjudged the best player for the third time in the tournament. He was also voted the best player in 2011 and 2015.