Igor Stimac proud of his boys; Sunil Chhetri targets Uzbekistan tie

DOHA, QATAR: India head coach Igor Stimac lauded his boys for the sheer heart they showed at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, despite the 0-2 defeat against Australia in their opening Group B Asian Cup match.

“I am proud of my boys. They showed that they are a bunch of honest, hard-working people, who are committed to whatever we ask of them,” said Stimac after the game. “They are ready to keep working without sleep, and I must praise them for it.

“They love coming to the national team camp, and they love working with the national team staff,” he said.

Given the gap between the two teams in the world ranking, a 0-2 loss for the Blue Tigers against the Socceroos didn’t come as a huge surprise to football fans. However, it also showed that a side placed 102nd in the FIFA World Rankings can thwart a team placed 77 places above them. And India did keep the mighty Aussies out for 50 minutes before a fatal error saw the Blue Tigers punished after all the good work.

For India, it was all about separate emotions in two halves, as Australia scored both their goals after the half-time break. While the Croat expressed his frustration at facing such opponents, he was also content with the end result.

“It’s frustrating when you have to play teams like these. It would probably not have been so, had it not been a team of Australia’s calibre,” said Stimac. “The second half was not good for us. We could not get out of the zone. The expectations were on the Australian players. They’re game-ready, so I am overall happy with the result.”

A true warrior on the pitch, Sandesh Jhingan led India’s defensive efforts, which were appreciated by one and all as the centreback soldiered on with a hastily bandaged forehead and stitched-up cuts above each eyebrow.

“I don’t care about my performance. If the team wins, it’s good for us. If the team loses, then we all lose,” Sandesh summed up his performance. “This is not to put it in a bad way. We were playing one of the best teams in Asia, and you need to give them respect. I feel we gave a good account of ourselves, and we’ll take the lessons that we’ve had to learn in certain moments.

Sunil Chetri in action during India Vs Audtralia AFC Asian Cup 2023

“We were disappointed at the end, but at the back of our minds, we could sense that they were having their nervy moments,” said Jhingan. “But they had one chance and they took it. That’s football. This batch knows how to deal with this. We are not going to cry about it. We will stick to the targets we’ve kept for ourselves and continue to work hard.”

India skipper Sunil Chhetri didn’t get a goal or too many chances to scare the opponents. He said, “There are pros and cons to this game. It’s not easy to play the best team in Asia. We are not used to playing sides like these, as we don’t play against them very often, so you never know what to expect.

“It’s a mixed bag of feelings right now. Once we watch the videos, perhaps we will gain more confidence and work on the things that we could have done better,” he said.

However, Chhetri has now turned his focus on the upcoming game against Uzbekistan on January 18. “Uzbekistan are not Australia, but they’re a good side nonetheless. So it will be a big challenge in that game too,” he said.

For goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, it was a game of two halves – a strong performance under the woodwork in the first, while the second half was one to forget.

“The first half was something we should be proud of, but it’s a game of small margins and if you give an inch to such superior opponents, they will punish you,” said Gurpreet. “I should have been better, but it’s a game that I can learn from. We now need to wrap it off and move on to the upcoming two matches.

Also Read: Fixtures announced for 77th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy final rounds

Also Read: Blue Tigers fight it out before going down to Australia

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