Asian Games: Stimac braces to discuss team strategy on flight, airport layover

Croatian head coach ready for firefighting as an ill-prepared India will be taking on hosts China on Tuesday without a single practice session

Indian national football team coach Igor Stimac (Photo: AIFF)
Indian national football team coach Igor Stimac (Photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It will be a jetlagged Blue Tigers team - without a single practice session together and head coach Igor Stimac yet to meet some of the squad members for the first time – which will take on hosts China in their opening game of the Asian Games in Hangzhou on Tuesday.  

The former Croatian World Cupper knows there is no magic recipe for success under such circumstances, but is living in hope. ‘’There is no time to cry over what happened over the last few days. We need to fight but don’t expect much,’’ said Stimac, who agreed to travel with the team after it received some much-needed experience quotient in the shape of Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh and Lalchungnunga.  

Even as he was addressing a virtual media interaction on Sunday afternoon on the eve of their departure for Hong Kong en route China, members of the hastily assembled national squad were still reporting from different parts of the country. Replying to a question about the team’s morale, Stimac said with a grin: ‘’Which team and what morale? We are travelling this evening and will be reaching Hong Kong around 7 am tomorrow morning. There is a five to six hours’ layover there at the airport where I will have a chat with the players and then again during the flight to work out a plan.   

‘’We will reach Hangzhou at around 5-6 pm tomorrow and then I will let them catch some sleep as we are playing the next day. My biggest worry is not to risk any injury to the senior players and I may even leave out Sunil (Chhetri) and Sandesh (Jhingan) for the China game,’’ Stimac revealed. 

Given that India are grouped with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar in the league stages, Stimac’s idea seems to remain guarded in their approach against a well-prepared China and then go all out for full points against the remaining teams.  

‘’It’s still possible to reach the eliminator rounds but we will need some luck for that. I am not thinking too much about the China game as they have been preparing well and have played preparatory matches against four good teams, losing three and winning one. They have three senior players with a striker who scored 36 goals in their league,’’ noted Stimac, showing that he had been doing his homework amid all the chaos.  

The squad, which kept on changing for ever with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) finally managing to release a few players who were on Stimac’s initial wishlist from the ISL clubs, it still has holes in full back and midfielders’ positions. ‘’Sunil, you must realise, has missed almost the entire pre-season training (with Bengaluru FC) as he just became a father and was spending time with his family. I will have to be very careful with him as I can’t risk losing him ahead of the World Cup qualifiers,’’ he said.  

Asked how much of responsibility will be thrust on Chhetri’s shoulders, Stimac said: ‘’We all know how Sunil maintains the same intensity, commitment irrespective of the matches. Sunil is always Sunil.’’  

Is the China trip then just a formality for the team? The famous Croat spirit in Stimac showed up for once: ‘’No tournament is a formality for me or the players.’’

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Published: 17 Sep 2023, 3:54 PM