India will try to utilise the Asian Cup experience in bettering its chances in the 2026 World Cup qualification process, said the head coach of the senior men’s national team, Igor Stimac, after his side landed in Doha to participate in the final stage of the continental competition.
Stimac said that India can play fearless football and he would like to see the players bring their best against the likes of Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria, who are the three opponents in the group league stage.
“We are now trying to play fearless football and can prove our stuff without getting intimidated by the opposition. We need to find stability in our team as we know we can play well,” said Stimac.
“But I am not looking at the final result to be honest. I just want the boys to enjoy the tournament and gain experience. As I have said earlier our top priority now is to qualify to the third round of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.”
He said that India could have hoped to do well in the Asian Cup but the team’s prospects suffered because of injuries to key players. “Things changed dramatically for us owing to injuries that happened to some of our key players in the last couple of months.
“It started with Ashique Kuriniyan. Then it was Anwar Ali followed by Jeakson Singh. Next we lost some of our back-up options like Glan (Martins) and Rohit (Kumar) to injuries.
“We are not as good as we could have been but we do not have time to think of the players who are not with us. We have to focus on those who are there with us. We have to try to utilise the time given to us (by the AIFF) and prepare the team by bringing their fitness to a higher level,” Stimac added.
India plays Australia in the first match on January 13.
India is appearing in the Asian Cup final round after 2019 with a revamped squad that was transformed under Stimac. “We reconstructed the team in a process that started four and a half years ago. The players who are here have sufficient experience, having been with the squad many times in the past. Never mind that 17 of the 26 players are first-timers in a such big tournament, but I am sure it will be a big experience for them,” the National coach said.
Stimac revealed that the final preparation will be short and hoped that the players will be continuing with preparedness that they gained from the ongoing ISL season. “We will try to have nine football training sessions on the pitch. Which will be the schedule until the first match (against Australia). We will have a practice match on the January 7 to assess where we stand at the moment before we meet Australia,” he said.
Source website: www.thehindu.com