Football - Stimac & Sunil
Igor Stimac (left) and Sunil Chhetri, the coach and captain of Indian football, at their pre-match press conference in Kolkata. Image Credit: AIFF

Kolkata: It’s been a job well begun for the Indian football team, but an upbeat Sunil Chhetri & Co still have plenty to play for when wrap up the Asian Cup Qualifiers against Hong Kong in their last Group D game at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday.

As things stand, both India and Hong Kong are on six points each from two matches, but Hong Kong are topping the group with a superior goal-difference of +4 in comparison to India’s +3. The six group winners, along with the best five second best-placed teams, earn a ticket to the AFC Asian Cup 2023.

“There is a big prize at the end which is qualification to the Asian Cup. Even though we have done good in the last two games, we have not achieved anything yet. What we have learnt is to keep everything aside. We just have to focus on the next game and end the tournament on a positive note,” captain Sunil Chhetri said at the press conference on Tuesday morning.

READ MORE

“Obviously there is less pressure on us to win this game but the hunger and motivation remain the same. We need to go out and start playing the way we did against Afghanistan to win this game,” said Igor Stimac, head coach who had been a key member of Croatia’s bronze medallist squad in the 1998 Fifa World Cup and a former national coach of Croatia. India had beaten Cambodia 2-0 and Afghanistan 2-1 in their first two games.

“We need to compliment Hong Kong for what they have shown in the first two games and credit to them for scoring more than us against Cambodia in their clash,” the coach sounded a word of caution.

Echoing similar sentiments, Chhetri said: “I think we just need to pick up from where we left, because at the start of the tournament, the coach had made sure that we played the tournament to win.”

The talismanic captain also highlighted on the significance of this tournament. “The speciality of this tournament is that if we win tomorrow’s game, we qualify for the Asian Cup 2023. We were there at the Asian Cup the last time in 2019, and we know the feeling - to rub shoulders among the best in Asia is where we want to be.”

The 37-year-old veteran, currently on 83 international goals, made a mention of the young guns in the team who acquitted themselves well in the respective roles in the last two matches. “I’m telling you good things are going to happen with this team. Slowly and steadily, they are understanding what they have to do. The likes of Akash, Jeakson, Suresh, Anwar – just imagine what they will be able to do once they get 10-20 caps under their belt.”