Igor Stimac with Indian players in training I Photo: Twitter|Indian Football Team
New Delhi: Indian football head coach Igor Stimac is not sure where the country would finish in the Hangzhou Asian Games next month given the U-23 format of the quadrennial showpiece and with very little known about the opposing teams.
Asked what finish at the Asian Games would satisfy him, Stimac said on Monday that while India does have a strong team, the fact that it is the only side having "not played a single game with the under-23s in the last two years" made predicting the outcome difficult.
"It's difficult to say (how far India will go in the Asian Games) because it's an under-23 competition, and you don't have much information about all the teams you're going to face there. I think we are the only team that hasn't played a single game with the under-23s in the last two years.
"How much we can do in a short preparation time is a huge question. Obviously, we do have strong under-23 players, who are already a huge part of the senior national team, and it should help us. But as you say, it's a similar competition to the Asian Cup, but different also because you don't have time between the games for recovery.
"We're going to face the biggest opponents in our group, China, in the opening game. And less than 48 hours later we have to play the next opponents (Bangladesh), which is hugely surprising. We're going to put all our efforts into the opening game and do our best to beat China to make our life easier," added Stimac in an interview to AIFF.
With the prestigious King's Cup all set to kick of in Thailand on September 7, Stimac is also looking at options in the likelihood of ace striker Sunil Chhetri not being part of the squad.
The King's Cup will be India's first outing abroad this year following their stupendous performance at home where they have won three consecutive tournament, are enjoying a 16-match unbeaten streak at home and basking in the glory of re-entering the top-100 of the FIFA Rankings.
The tournament scheduled to be held from September 7-10 will see India, the 2019 edition's bronze medallists, take on Asian powerhouse Iraq in the first match. The other two teams in the competition are Thailand and Lebanon.
However, Chhetri's wife was admitted to hospital on August 8 because of dengue and the ace striker could miss the tournament.
On whether Chhetri would be a big miss, Stimac said, "Absolutely. That's why we are following our boys at the (ongoing) Durand Cup too. And they are doing well. They are showing a good attitude, putting on good performances.
"But you know that we have many things happening in September. So we'll see who will get the opportunity and who will use it in a proper way, I would say."
The event will serve as preparation for the Hangzhou Asian Games, where football action begins just nine days after the conclusion of the King's Cup.
"They've (boys) spent the last few weeks with their clubs, with their club coaches, working on different things, and also enjoying the Durand Cup. And obviously, the King's Cup will be a different challenge from the previous home tournaments, where we were very successful.
"We've got the toughest possible opponents (Iraq) in the first game, and we'll see how we can handle that with such a short time for preparation. I've been doing plenty of things. I've been following our opponents who we will face in the King's Cup and also preparing an analysis on the Asian Games," said Stimac in an interview to AIFF.
Stimac added that India had almost resolved their problem in defence ahead of the busy season but was apprehensive about energy levels for "high-intensity football".
"The most important thing is for our national team to be resistant enough and have the level of intensity we need in the game to do well. History has proven in the four years that whenever we have short preparation time, we cannot show compactness at the needed level when we're facing higher-ranked opponents.
"But crucially, we have stabilised the most important part of our game which is the defence. So from that point of view, we can expect a stable defensive block. But I'm not sure how much energy we're going to have for high-intensity football or high press, which we were doing magnificently in the previous three tournaments (at home)," the coach averred.
On what should India do in a busy season lined up with events such as the King's Cup, Asian Games in September, Merdeka Cup in October, World Cup Qualifiers in November and the Asian Cup in January, Stimac said, "We need to be very wise and use the time, which will be given to us, properly.
"Because we know the time we get will not obviously be as we expected or enough for the ideal preparation. But whatever we get, we need to use it wisely and prepare ourselves in the best possible way for each challenge waiting for us ahead.
"At the moment, we are probably not taking the best possible Indian team to the King's Cup in Thailand. There will be many youngsters in the final list of 23 because immediately after that, we need to keep preparing ourselves for the Asian Games. And that's our priority in September, not the results in the King's Cup."