2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: 'Qatar in a different league than rest of teams in our group,' says India's coach Igor Stimac
After facing a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to Oman in their opening encounter of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, India will lock horns against the formidable Qatar on Tuesday. Speaking to the media ahead of the all-important clash, India's head coach Igor Stimac said that it was difficult to find weaknesses in the Qatar side.
"Qatar as an opponent is far advanced when compared to the teams in Asia. They won the Asian Cup very easily. They even performed well in the tournament in South America (Copa America). The players grow up rapidly in Qatar."
Accompanying Stimac was India's goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The Arjuna Awardee expressed his disappointment over the loss against Oman but also stressed that they need to forget that and focus on their upcoming encounter against Qatar.
"Well, not getting desired results definitely disappointed us. But, as a player, we have to get up. It is a great opportunity for us to play against a team like Qatar. We need to make sure we give our best against them."
Stimac was also full praise of the investment in football in Qatar. India, on the contrary, have just started to restructure themselves with the baby leagues.
"Qatar is having the same team and they are making it better for the last 8 yrs. They have got too much investment which is a great sign. We just started structuring ourselves with baby leagues and all. Previously, we played a different style of football. But, now there is good passing, possession, movement, and we are performing better in other technical points. We did fantastically against Oman. We created a lot of chances and should have killed the game in the first half. But, we still lack experience."
When asked if the poor finishing was a concern for him, the Croatian answered that the problem can be solved only if the strikers get more chances.
"As a national team coach, it is a concern for me. They need to play more matches and get more chances to develop their game. Otherwise, nothing will work in our favour. I was more sad than disappointed after the game against Oman. I cannot expect much more from my team. There were a few weak points, one was scoring. The other one was defending in the last 15-20 minutes. But, it is still early days."
On India's fitness level, managerial duties in Qatar, and chances of progressing to the final round of World Cup Qualifiers
It looked as if India ran out of gas in the last fifteen minutes of the game and fingers were pointed on their fitness levels. However, Igor Stimac downplayed it and replied that as an experienced side, Oman were smart. Although they ran less, they were more effective in it.
"I don't think so. It is easy to find out. We have GPS which gives us numbers like distance covered, runs made, maximum speed, and other indicators. We were very good. But, the effectiveness of the running made the difference. The more experienced teams will run less but be more effective. That's what happened to us. Oman was an experienced team and they knew exactly when and how to run. In the last 30 minutes, we were putting too many sprints without holding back our energy. It ultimately cost us the game."
Igor Stimac is no stranger to the Gulf territory, taking charge of Qatar Stars League club Al-Shahania midway through the 2016-17 season. When asked if that could prove to be an advantage for him, the Croatian told them that anything can happen in football.
"They are really well. When I was here doing my job in Qatar, I studied the players. We drew against Al Sadd which have many national team players. And, nobody expected that from us. We stole two very important points from Al Sadd. It made a difference in deciding the winner of the league and saved us from relegation.
"I do not want to talk too much about Qatar players. But, they are very strong not only in the Asian level but also at the World level. They can take on many European national teams easily. In a couple of years, they will be a very strong team. Their physical status is great. Their experience is fantastic. Their technical ability and movement are very nice. When I look now and study, it is difficult to find weak points."
Having begun their World Cup Qualifying campaign on a loss, Igor Stimac didn't rue India's chances of making it through to the next round completely.
"Football is a game where you cannot make miracles over the night. We are working on stabilizing our game. We are doing our best to make sure we move to the final stages of the Asian cup. If there is a chance in the World Cup Qualifiers, we will try to surprise Oman and win against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. We know Qatar is in a different league when compared to the rest of the teams in our group. But, we need to concentrate on improving our game and beat Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Oman.