In a display of unwavering determination, the Indian football team, led by head coach Igor Stimac, found themselves narrowly defeated with a scoreline of 0-2 against Saudi Arabia in the Round of 16 during the Asian Games 2023. This valiant effort, however, did not deter Stimac from reiterating his long-standing concerns about the team’s inadequate preparation time.
Stimac, who has been steering the Indian football ship, maintained that despite the disappointing loss, the outcome could have been considerably worse had it not been for the remarkable resilience shown by his squad. The defeat may have stung, but it did not eclipse the broader issue at hand: the challenges stemming from the team’s preparation leading up to the tournament.
The Indian team, under the captaincy of Sunil Chhetri, had found themselves stuck with significant uncertainties surrounding their participation in the prestigious Asian Games. These uncertainties were further elevated by long-standing disputes with club authorities over the availability of key players for national duty.
As a result of these unnecessary disputes and lingering uncertainties, the process of selecting the final squad became a tough stake for the Gaffer. With time ticking away, the selected players had very little opportunity to hone their chemistry and coordination on the pitch before embarking on their journey to China.
What issues did Stimac & Co had to face in their preparation for Asian Games 2023?
The Indian men’s football team faced uncertainty about their participation in the Asian Games due to a scheduling clash with the Indian Super League (ISL). The ISL’s season schedule sparked disputes with clubs over the release of key players.
This dilemma further complicated the team selection process, which underwent numerous revisions. Consequently, the chosen players had limited time to practice together before their journey to China. Stimac had already expressed concerns about the unavailability of top players and the insufficient time for preparation.
On the road for preparation for Asian Games 2023, Head coach Igor Stimac took to X(Twitter) platform to reveal that the players faced significant challenges, including sleeping in airports and conducting recovery sessions at a park in China before participating in the event. The team had to undergo training sessions at an adjacent park as the assigned training ground was two hours far and the players were already facing fatigue and tiredness. Despite these hardships, their commitment and dedication shone through, earning the team and the nation a sense of pride and respect.
“From completing their sleep in airports to activation/recovery sessions in parks in China, I wanted to personally show my appreciation to all my players here at the Asian Games. These boys are thorough professionals and doing everything they can to make India proud” : Stimac added on Twitter.
How did the Indian football team fare at the Asian Games 2023?
Under the leadership of Sunil Chhetri, the Blue Tigers advanced to the round of 16 from Group A during the tournament. Their campaign began with a challenging 1-5 loss to host nation China, mere hours after their arrival in the country.
China’s Gao Tianyi struck first, finding the back of the net in the 17th minute. However, India managed to level the score when Rahul KP scored an equalizer in the dying moments of the first half, during injury time.
The second half saw China regain their lead, with Dai Weijun scoring in the 51st minute. China continued to dominate the game as Qianglong Tao netted two quick goals in the 73rd and 76th minutes. The home team sealed their victory when Hao Fang scored the fifth goal in injury time, during the 92nd minute.
Nevertheless, the Indian team demonstrated resilience by securing a 1-0 victory over Bangladesh. There was nothing much to separate between the two neighbouring nations as it was Sunil Chhetri who secured the victory with a penalty kick in the 85th minute.
The Blue Tigers continued their campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Myanmar. India took the lead in the 24th minute. Rahim Ali was fouled in the penalty box by a Myanmar player, leading the referee to award a penalty. Captain Sunil Chhetri confidently stepped forward and expertly slotted the ball past Myanmar’s goalkeeper, Zin Nyi Nyi Aung, giving India a 1-0 advantage.
However, Myanmar continued to apply pressure on the Indian defense and managed to equalize with a quarter of the match remaining. Substitute Yan Kyaw Htwe scored with a header, beating Indian goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh and leveling the score at 1-1 for Myanmar.
These outcomes positioned them as the second-place finishers in their group, setting up a clash against Saudi Arabia in the tournament’s round of 16, which ultimately resulted in defeat as Mohammed Khalil Marran (51’, 57’) scored both goals for Saudi Arabia.
What did Stimac have to say following the loss to Saudi Arabia at the Asian Games 2023?
“Big lesson from this tournament is – Don’t send us anywhere if we can’t get our best players to represent the country. Also, do not send us anywhere if you can provide time for us to work and prepare well. We were here exposed while representing India. We took it well and the Indian fans can be proud of these boys who came here unprepared and without having played a single training session together,” Stimac told to the press.
Nonetheless, Igor Stimac’s players can take pride in their exceptional performance, especially considering the significant uncertainties they faced. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) was compelled to send a second-string team due to the uncooperative stance of the Indian Super League (ISL) organizers, who declined to release their top players. Stimac is scheduled to lead the Indian senior team in a friendly match against Malaysia on October 13.
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