Bagan & Bengaluru 8 give Stimac solace
India’s football team head coach Igor Stimac thinks players from ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC would come handy in the ongoing SAFF Championship. Four players each from the two teams are in the 23-member squad.
Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose, Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco are with ATK Mohun Bagan, while Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Udanta Singh and Suresh Singh play for the Bangalore-based side.
“After playing in the AFC Cup group stage matches, ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC players continued with their pre-season (ATKMB played the inter-zonal semi-final against FC Nasaf on September 22), so it’s an advantage for us. Most of the other ISL sides are yet to start their pre-season. We will have to be careful about how many minutes we can give to those players,” Stimac said at a virtual news conference on Saturday. Chhetri and goalkeeper Gurpreet were also present.
India start against defending champions Bangladesh on Monday in the five-team competition that began in Maldives on Friday.
The India coach also thanked ISL clubs for releasing players for the tournament. “We could not have a proper camp due to the circumstances. The AFC and SAFF were forced to organise tournaments outside the Fifa window (owing to the pandemic) and we had to have an understanding with the ISL clubs to release the players,” he said.
The grounds, though, remain a concern for India coach. “We are here four days before the first match. The training grounds are different here — artificial as well as natural turf. Players may get injured when you switch pitches. We are on an island and have to come to Male by speedboats and that has made it even more difficult.”
On Udanta making a return, Stimac said, “We have seen a different Udanta in the AFC Cup (for Bengaluru FC), in his natural position where he was not playing in the past. He has come back to his best.”
India captain Chhetri thinks his side will play each match like a “war to fight”. “All the matches will be tough. Despite a little bit of superiority, every game will be like a war to fight. We have to fight till the last minute. We cannot afford to play 90 per cent,” Chhetri said.
He, however, conceded that India were not at their best in the two international friendlies against Nepal last month. They drew one and won the other. “If we are talking about the two matches against Nepal, we have areas to improve and the head coach has conveyed that to us. Yes, we could have done better,” Chhetri said.
“Bangladesh have changed their coach (after World Cup qualifiers) but they are a very difficult side. In the two matches we played against them in the last three-four months, it has been very tough.
“So, we want to take it one game at a time. We are at the moment thinking about Monday’s match only. We are not thinking about the final,” the India captain said.