AFC Asian Cup: Igor Stimac just wants his boys to play good football, no pressure

“Our target is to have a good performance in the next three games as a team and as a country, and use the experience from the tournament for the future"

Igor Stimac at the press conference in Doha (photo courtesy: AIFF)
Igor Stimac at the press conference in Doha (photo courtesy: AIFF)
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Gautam Bhattacharyya

Back-to-back appearances in the AFC Asian Cup is as big as it gets for Indian football, and the Blue Tigers will have nothing to lose as they open their campaign against a formidable Australia at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha on Saturday evening. 

Igor Stimac, India's inspirational head coach, was realistic about his team’s prospects in the tournament, wanting Sunil Chhetri & Co. to play some good football and take it from there. “Our target is to have a good performance in the next three games as a team and as a country, and use the experience from the tournament for the future,” said Stimac, the man who once coached the likes of Luka Modric and was a key member of the Croatia side which finished third in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. 

Speaking at the pre-match media conference, Stimac shifted the weight of expectations away from the players and said they are in Doha to embrace the challenges. 

‘’I'm not putting any pressure on the players. We will go out and fight. It’s going to be a difficult match for us. We all know the strengths of Australia and their achievements as well. Their players are coming in from European clubs, where they’ve been playing competitive football week in and week out. It’s not easy but we are here to embrace such challenges,” he said. 

The last match played between these two sides was also an opening game in the 2011 edition of the AFC Asian Cup, once again in Doha, which ended in a 0-4 loss for India with the talismanic Australian captain Tim Cahill scoring twice.

Asked what could be the way to go against such a technically superior team, the Croat said: “We don’t have to give away set pieces. We know the strengths of Australia — they play very pragmatic football. They caused a lot of problems for England (in a friendly in October) and we can expect the storm coming out of them. We need to stay compact and do everything possible to stop crosses from the flanks." 

The match will kick off at 5.00 pm IST on 13 January and will be broadcast live on Sports 18 and streamed live on Jio Cinema.  

FAQs about Australia 

Team nickname: Socceroos 

FIFA ranking: 25 

AFC Asian Cup records (QF and beyond): Quarter-finals (2007), runners-up (2011), champions (2015), quarter-finals (2019) 

Head coach: Graham Arnold (Australia) 

India vs Australia head-to-head: India won 2, lost 1; goals scored 11, goals conceded 5 


Key players 

Mathew Ryan (goalkeeper): Like Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri, his Australian counterpart Mathew Ryan will play his third Asian Cup final rounds in Doha. Having also played in three World Cups, the seasoned goalkeeper recently underwent surgery for a fractured cheekbone and is doing his best to regain peak fitness.  

Harry Souttar (defender): The 25-year-old Leicester City centreback played for Scotland at the youth level before opting to play for Australia in the seniors at the age of 20. A highly dependable player, he made his senior debut against Nepal and also played in the Olympics.  

Riley McGree (midfielder): A versatile attacking midfielder with a keen sense of scoring, McGree’s selection is a huge boost for Australia. He sustained a foot injury while playing for Middlesbrough in early October last year and could not play a few of the crucial friendly matches. Despite a few disciplinary issues, McGree has been an exceptional player for the national team since his debut at the U-17 stage, which was evident in the Qatar World Cup.

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