SAFF Championship 2023: ‘Forget the rankings, Pakistan might be surprise of tournament,' says India coach Igor Stimac
Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac predicted Pakistan as the “surprise” of the SAFF Championship 2023.
“Traffic in Bengaluru is something special,” India coach Igor Stimac jokingly apologised to his counterparts – Nepal coach Vincenzo Alberto and Kuwait coach Rui Bento – who were seated for the press conference for the SAFF Championship 2023, which gets underway from Wednesday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. Pakistan, who are the fourth side clubbed in the same group as India, are yet to arrive in the city but sources close to the development informed they'll be landing later on Tuesday night.
India head into the SAFF Championship after a jubilant display at the Intercontinental Cup, where they defeated Lebanon 2-0 in the final on Sunday. Such was India's dominance that the Blue Tigers didn't concede a single goal at the tournament. While the Intercontinental triumph is still fresh, a new challenge awaits for India.
"The mood in the camp is brilliant after winning the Intercontinental Cup tournament. Every single second spent in Odisha (Bhubaneswar) helped us a lot to come to a point where we can say we can be happy with the performances. But the first step is to come to a certain point when you're going to be happy about your players. The second step is to repeat that game after game. So that's much more difficult. So we can expect some drops of form in certain positions until we get to a point where we can expect all our players to keep consistency, to keep the level of performance very high, which is really important for me as a coach.
“We have left behind whatever was going on in Odisha. This is totally new tournament, new teams are here, new approach here, new climate conditions are here. As you can see we are coming from 40 degrees in Bhubaneswar, here to very English weather I would say. It's raining, it's beautiful weather for football, but it will take us a few days to settle down with that and to adapt to certain conditions,” Stimac noted at the presser on Tuesday afternoon.
There have been spells of drizzle in Bengaluru on Tuesday, which has resulted in a dip in the mercury levels, with the temperature hovering between 21-26 degrees. And it is likely to remain the same on Wednesday, which is the match day.
Speaking on the preparations, Stimac presented interesting points on the Bangalore turf, and India's oppositions, also predicting Pakistan as “surprise of the tournament."
Stimac indicated there is very limited time for training sessions, stating, “Bangalore doesn't enjoy natural grass turfs, so no coaches love to work too much with the players on artificial turf. Mostly to be tactical, slow movements without risking any injuries.”
Speaking about their opponents, the coach said they need to be respected, urging not to be misled by the current rankings.
"Forget the rankings. I watch Pakistan's match against Kenya, and Pakistan was better than Kenya away from home. They created better chances, they were more aggressive, and obviously, they are defending deeper, but from deeper positions, they come straight forward with the quality. They have six, seven players which are developed abroad. Two players play in England, one in Denmark in the first tier. So let's not mislead the public please. Let's not speak about rankings. We have very serious group here, very serious competition.
“So don't be misled by great performance we had against Lebanon. Every day is a challenge in front of us. So let's respect everyone, because the teams which are with us in the group have not come here to participate, they came here to win the tournament,” said the coach.
A chunk of players from the Pakistan squad plays in European leagues. Otis Khan, an attacking midfielder, is a graduate of the Manchester United academy and currently plays for England's second-tier club Grimsby Town FC. Abdul Samad Arshad, who is a right-winger, comes with the experience of playing at Denmark's first-division club HB Köge. Easah Suliman is another such talent, who has represented England in youth-level competitions.
Meanwhile, sharing his thoughts on Pakistan's late arrival due to visa-related issues and their lack of practice, Stimac noted that it shouldn't make much of a difference, pointing out their recent fixtures – three international outings in a week. “They played three games in the last 10 days, they played on the 11th against Mauritius, they play on 14 against Kenya and they play on 17 against Djibouti. So they are in good competitive mood.”