Asian Games: Chhetri didn't want to come off in the 3 games, says Stimac

Indian football team brace for Saudi Arabia next after making round-of-16 after 13 years

Igor Stimac (photo: AIFF)
Igor Stimac (photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It was 13 years back in Guangzhou, China, when India last made the pre-quarters round of the Asian Games 2010 before bowing to the continental powerhouse Japan. The task will be again cut out for them when they take on Saudi Arabia on Thursday (September 28), but head coach Igor Stimac feels there could be some surprises round the corner.  

The build-up to the Asian Games was far from ideal for Stimac’s boys and a travel-weary Sunil Chhetri & Co went down 5-1 in their opening match against hosts China. However, they pipped Bangladesh 1-0 next and drew 1-1 with Myanmar on Sunday to move into the knockout stage of last 16 as the second team from their group.   

An ageless Chhetri – now 38 and certainly in his last Asiad campaign – stood out by figuring in all 270 minutes that India had been on the pitch and chipped in with two goals. Speaking to the AIFF media team from China, Stimac said: “Chhetri played the entire duration of the three matches because he wanted to play, he didn't want to come out. That's what my captain is. Even when there were problems in the midfield, he was coming down to organise things and provide the passes for the attack. His commitment is amazing.” the Croatian said. 

“We can now concentrate on the Saudi Arabia game. We can now have two days of good training. Saudi are a good team, all of us know about it but we will fight it out on the pitch. We surprised lots of people by reaching the last 16. Maybe we have some more surprises in store. Who knows,’’ he said. 

Speaking about the crucial Myanmar game on Sunday, Stimac felt that they ought to have picked up full points from the game. “We knew Myanmar would be tough, as they too were looking for a place in the next round. They were not ready to leave an inch, they were quick and were coming well on the counter-attacks. But my boys stood firm and thwarted all the attacks."

“I am happy that we could make the last 16 under circumstances that were not always in our favour. All credit goes to the boys for playing with such determination. We could have killed the game earlier as we missed some chances,” rued the coach. 

‘’The biggest positive from the three matches was that I could spot a few boys who could be part of the national team in the near future. They have performed creditably in the three matches here so far. That's a always great takeaway for a coach,” Stimac added. 

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: 25 Sep 2023, 3:55 PM