Friendlies vs Oman, UAE: Stimac looking beyond a Chhetri, wants youngsters to ‘grab their opportunity’

The Indian football team’s Croatian coach is looking at the future of the national team and is banking on younger players who are in the Emirates now.

By Naveen Peter

The last time Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri missed an international assignment, the team ended up holding Asian champions Qatar to a goalless draw at their own den.

On Thursday, head coach Igor Stimac will be hoping for a similar — if not a better — show from his boys when they line up against Oman in a friendly tie at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Stadium in Dubai.

For the two friendly matches, the coach from Croatia has called up a number of youngsters and is hoping that the decision gives his players a competitive edge.

“I cannot rely on the past. I can select the squad based on past results, but those players need to work hard. We closely monitor them, and then discuss which players fit into the starting XI,” Stimac told the All India Football Federation website.

“When I became the national team coach, I even mentioned to Sunil (Chhetri) that he also needs to fight for his position. This fight goes on forever. Without this continuous fight, there is no success.”

With crucial matches lined up in the coming months, Indian midfielder Anirudh Thapa believed that the friendlies will play a key role in helping the team shape up well.

“These are practice matches which will help us to be better. We have come together after such a long time. We need to grab this opportunity,” said Thapa, who plays for Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League (ISL).

Bundled in Group E of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, India played Oman twice in the recent past before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended international football. 

Though Al Ahmar took maximum points from both the ties, centre-back Sandesh Jhingan believed the Indian team showed enough quality to post a tough challenge. 

“In the past few games, they did get the better of us but the matches were extremely close,” the 27-year-old Sandesh Jhingan said.

“Everyone will agree that we need to play tough opponents. I can proudly say that we are almost neck-to-neck with them. The growth of Indian football has been immense and it’s not that Oman are way ahead of us.”

Moreover, the senior Indian defender was pleased to see new faces make it into the national side.

“To be honest, it’s good to see all the new boys who have come in. Players like Apuia (Lalengmawia Ralte), Suresh Singh and Sana (Chinglensana Singh) have shown that they have what it takes to be here, and have impressed the coach,” the Jhingan pointed out.

“When I was new to the team I was guided by the senior players, but these guys are already so strong mentally. I’m sure they will do well once they get a chance. These guys are all talented, level headed, and the future really looks bright,” Jhingan hoped.

Lead image: AIFF Media