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"Today, India played like the Blue Tigers" - Igor Stimac elated after India's victory against Afghanistan

Igor Stimac was delighted with the way the Indian team played against Afghanistan (Image Courtesy: AIFF)
Igor Stimac was delighted with the way the Indian team played against Afghanistan (Image Courtesy: AIFF)

After an inspired 2-1 victory against Afghanistan in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers on Saturday, Indian team's head coach Igor Stimac was ecstatic. He exclaimed that his team had finally done justice to their nickname - Blue Tigers.

India, hungry to taste victory, sealed the three points in the dying moments of the game through a late goal from Sahal Abdul Samad.

πŸ”Š SOUND ON πŸ”ŠIt's time to soak in the atmosphere 😁#AFGIND βš”οΈ #ACQ2023 πŸ† #BlueTigers 🐯 #BackTheBlue πŸ’™ #IndianFootball ⚽ https://t.co/sCfeIZeZss

Addressing the post-match press conference, Igor Stimac stated that he doesn't even remember the last time he cherished a football game quite like this one.

"Everyone who was present at the stadium really enjoyed it. There was drama and plenty of quality football from both teams. It was 22 strong men fighting on the pitch. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed a football game like this. I don't think there's any doubt that we deserved to win the game."

Often times over the past few years, the national side has looked toothless. On Saturday evening, however, the hunger to win was evident. Rallied on by a roaring crowd at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, the Blue Tigers roared back even after Afghanistan equalized in the 88th minute.

"What do they call us? Blue Tigers. But we were not the Blue Tigers before I came here. Today, India played like the Blue Tigers. Going out, enjoying football, and fighting for the country, that's what it is about."

"That's a treasure for India" - Head coach Igor Stimac on the current crop of youngsters in the Indian side

Although Sahal Abdul Samad has made a name for himself in the Indian Super League, starring for the Kerala Blasters, the 25-year-old has been far from a constant starter for the national side.

Gaffer Igor Stimac explained that despite the raw talent that Sahal has, the young midfielder lacks the ability to "rationalize" his forward movements.

πŸ—£οΈ @sahal_samad: I badly wanted to do something on the field, even if it was for 5 minutes πŸ™Œ#AFGIND βš”οΈ #ACQ2023 πŸ† #BlueTigers 🐯 #BackTheBlue πŸ’™ #IndianFootball ⚽ https://t.co/VyoHru183R

Tonight, however, he did. In the 92nd minute, latching on to a pass from Ashique Kuruniyan, the Kerala Blasters midfielder buried home the winner. Stimac also spoke about Sahal and his contribution.

"I told Sahal before the SAFF Championship Final, 'Sometimes one minute on the pitch is better than 1,000.' It depends on how you work during that time. I told him that you're now the 'Ishan Pandita of the national team.' But I want Sahal to rationalize his runs and his goals because he has so much quality. It's a long process and patience is the only way forward."

Meanwhile, another player who silently worked his socks off against Afghanistan was Ashique. The 24-year-old winger created havoc down the left flank and other than providing an assist for Sahal's goal, he also won a free-kick that Sunil Chhetri eventually converted.

However, in response to a Sportskeeda query about Ashique's performance, Igor Stimac highlighted that Saturday's performance wasn't about individual efforts. It was a show of cumulative brilliance.

"Not just him (Ashique) but everyone was wonderful today. Roshan (Singh), Akash (Mishra), Anwar Ali, then Sandesh (Jhingan) as the leader. Suresh (Singh) and Jeakson (Singh) as well. Jeakson was having fun playing football today. We have some wonderful young players who are growing and have enough experience. That's a treasure for India. I don't think we can say that in previous years India's games were enjoyable, but now they are."

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Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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