India look for much-needed win against Afghanistan
Dushanbe (Tajikistan): The Indian football team will look to register a much-needed win and convert their goalscoring chances when they take on Afghanistan in a FIFA World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
Hours after arriving in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, India head coach Igor Stimac stated that his side needs to overcome 'tough challenges' imposed by Afghanistan, besides braving adversities when they face-off at the Republican Central Stadium.
"We know how difficult this game is going to be for us. We both (India and Afghanistan) have already faced Qatar and Bangladesh in the qualifiers. We see Afghanistan as a physical side with good composure. They have some players who also have the experience of playing in Europe. They are not in the top division, but playing in Europe always gives you an extra bit of confidence. They have stamina and they'll pose a tough challenge for us," Stimac said in the pre-match press conference.
Dushanbe is currently having temperatures hovering around 6-7 degrees and that is something the team is wary of.
"As a player, you have to be confident and face every challenge head-on. That's why we are here. Yes, the conditions have not been in our favour to some extent but that won't have any effect when the referee blows the whistle. If we can execute the coach's plans on the pitch, we can surely hope for a good result," Pronay Halder said.
Meanwhile, experienced centre-back Anas Edathodika flew back home late on Tuesday owing to a family emergency. "Anas (Edathodika) is having a tough time. Our thoughts are with him and his family. He has been an instrumental member of the squad and we will miss him. The onus is now on the other players to take the mantle and deliver on the pitch," Stimac added.
India were held to a 1-1 draw against much-lower ranked Bangladesh after playing out a famous 0-0 draw against Qatar in Doha. Stimac said they were favourites and probably the pressure of expectation got the better of them in Kolkata.
"The most difficult games are those when people who are following you, write the result before the game starts. We witnessed it against Qatar as well as Bangladesh. When Bangladesh came, they were defending with 10 players and were looking to counter-attack. Without taking away any credit from them, we earned a point against them. We can't forget that they were leading until the 87th minute."
The coach also maintained that India's passion for the beautiful game is changing and they will try their level best to fulfil the expectations and grab their first win in the joint qualification round.
"We are happy that people in India are following us with lots of passion now. They have great expectations from us and we'll try our level best to make them happy," he said.
Meanwhile, Anoush Dastagiv, Afghanistan head coach, added that though it's not their own country, they get "confidence" when they play in Dushanbe.
"Yes, geographically it's far from own country and we would have been happier if we could have gotten the chance to play in our own country. But, playing in Tajikistan has always given us much-needed confidence. We have beaten Cambodia, Bangladesh here and settled with a draw against Tajikistan, Jordan. Those results will surely give us a psychological boost tomorrow," Dastagiv said.
"Here, people speak our language. We feel at home. Whenever we play in front of Afghani crowd, we never fail to get positive results. We hope we can get something closer to that tomorrow as well," he added.