Emphasising on the need to stay positive, Indian football team coach Igor Stimac says injuries to key players such as Ashique Kuruniyan and Jeakson Singh have made the task tougher ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. India are slated to play Kuwait in their den in a 2026 World Cup and AFC 2027 Asian Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 next week. India are also playing in the upcoming Asian Cup in January next year. “We have entered the new phase of our work, and we know it’s going to be very hard and difficult on the boys. We know that the next few months until March will be very difficult,” Stimac told the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.
“We are very optimistic then that once the players, who are missing now, are back, we will become solid again and show strength on the pitch, no matter who we play against.
“So, the focus at this moment is how to replace those boys who were the starting 11 players, such as Ashique Kuruniyan, Anwar Ali and Jeakson Singh (currently nursing injuries).
“They were our strength in the latest successes we had. These boys played very good football; they were adding extra value to the whole team,” he added.
India have emerged victorious 3-2 against Kuwait on their home turf only once in a friendly match in 2004.
Asked if the group is tough, he replied in the positive and said the aim is to bag the second position.
“Yes, the group is very tough and challenging because we know there will be no easy opponents, and they are the top teams. So apart from that, from the third pot we got by far the best opponents available (Kuwait).
“So, the group is tough at the moment, but we need to approach it game by game and prepare for it. As far as I’m concerned and with my experience in football, November to March will be difficult.
“To prepare well and to make sure that the national team gets enough time to secure the second spot in the group and qualify — that is our plan.” Stimac, the 1998 World Cup semifinalist with Croatia, is getting the squad together for only a few days before the Qualifiers.
How much will that help in getting the boys back to the desired level? “We started planning this camp a long time ago and we’re going to have four to five days to execute some training sessions and drills and prepare well for the first game against Kuwait which is important because it’s the opening game. We are quite clear about what needs to be done.
“It’s going to be a very difficult and different game, so the boys need to adapt to that as soon as possible. And we are not going to have much time to do so, only one training session prior to the match day.
“So, difficulties and challenges will be there, but once again, we know what we can bring to the pitch, we know how to handle the situation. All we need to do is stay focused and well-concentrated on the task we’re going to put to the players.” India have had the upper hand against Kuwait recently, beating them on penalties in the final of the SAFF Championship after a stalemate in the group stage.
“The games we played against them (SAFF Championship) came after a long camp preparation. And our boys should not rely on the latest success because now we are in a different position. The boys are coming from a different pace of football.
“So, we’re not going to lie to ourselves and expect top-quality football. Our focus is on the result and how to obtain the result in the opening game of the World Cup qualifiers.
“My advice for players will be to forget as soon as possible what happened in June and July against Kuwait and to concentrate on new challenges and new developments that might be ahead of us. And that’s the best way of approaching this game,” Stimac said.
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