Stimac hopes for a chock-o-block Yuba Bharati to back Blue Tigers’ Round 3 dreams

BHUBANESWAR: The Indian senior men’s training camp has been in full swing in Bhubaneswar for almost two weeks now. It was here exactly 12 months ago that the Blue Tigers held a lengthy camp before triumphing at the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship, and Igor Stimac and his boys are hoping to reach similar heights in the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Kuwait (June 6 in Kolkata) and Qatar (June 11 in Doha).

The opening week or so of training was predominantly focused on gaining fitness levels as the players entered the back end of a busy season. It involved several physical tests and aerobic sessions.

“The boys are doing well,” said Stimac. “It has been proven more than once that a long camp always helps us. We are working on various aspects of the game, both offensive and defensive. Our fitness levels are getting better each day, and now we enter the phase of working on our tactics. From Monday onwards, we are going to work on positioning, set pieces and transitions.”

On Friday night, Stimac trimmed his squad strength from 32 to 27 for the match against Kuwait. Phurba Lachenpa, Jithin MS, Imran Khan, Parthib Gogoi and Muhammad Hammad were released from the camp. While the latter two had sustained minor injuries during the camp, regarding the release of the first three, Stimac said, “It’s always hard for coaches to release players after their hard work and commitment during the training camp but that’s part of the job. I discussed everything with our boys and they know in which areas they need to work on. At the moment, I would rather say that they have very strong competition in their positions.”

The Blue Tigers were originally supposed to depart for Kolkata on June 2, but have advanced their travel to the West Bengal capital on May 29 to get a full week of stay in the city and adjust to the conditions better. There isn’t much difference between the weather in Bhubaneswar and Kolkata, two cities less than 500 kilometres apart.

“⁠It’s obviously hot and humid here, but we enjoy every training session. The facilities and hospitality are amazing here. But still, we have decided to leave for Kolkata a few days earlier than planned so we can adjust to the humidity better and prepare for the crucial game,” said Stimac.

The role of the crowd will be massive, and that may still be an understatement. A must-win encounter against Kuwait for India’s third-round dreams, with the added glimmer of Sunil Chhetri’s last-ever match in the national jersey. A passionate Kolkata crowd powered India to an impeccable AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign two years ago, and Stimac expects even more fervour in the stands in two weeks’ time.

“Having in mind the importance of the game – with us being perhaps only a win away from qualifying for the third round for the first time, and it being Sunil Chhetri’s farewell game – we expect the Salt Lake Stadium to be packed. I am sure that our supporters will reach Kolkata from all parts of India to help our boys win the game and say thanks and goodbye to Sunil. I am very confident it’s going to be emotional and hopefully, we will find a way to celebrate together after the final whistle,” said Stimac.

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