‘Why the coach wants a long camp is…’: India midfielder Apuia weighs in on Igor Stimac's 4-week camp ahead of Asian Cup
Apuia Ralte, who is making a return after an ankle injury, has been named in the Asian Games squad, which was announced by AIFF at the beginning of August.
Almost two months after winning the SAFF Championships in Bangalore and sending the country into a frenzy, the Indian men's football team will be back in business in September. The Blue Tigers will first set off to Thailand for the King's Cup, following which both the men's and women's contingent will fly to China for the Asian Games.
In Thailand the team will face Iraq, ranked 29 places above India in the FIFA rankings. But with the Asian Games scheduled shortly after the King's Cup, coach Igor Stimac plans on travelling to Thailand with a younger squad to give them some game time ahead of the continental event.
Midfielder Apuia Ralte, who is making a return after an ankle injury, has been named in the Asian Games squad, which was announced by AIFF at the beginning of August. And with the midfielder already making three appearances in as many matches for Mumbai City in Durand Cup, the progress comes as a major boost for India too.
“I haven't played for quite a long time but injuries are part of football. We need to be mentally strong to fight for my place again in the club and give my best in training. So I think it was a great opportunity for me to get the exposure in Thailand and having some matches in the Durand Cup helped me a lot,” said Apuia in an interview with hindustantimes.com.
Coming back from injury Apuia has played full 90 minutes in all three clashes, which Mumbai won resoundingly and have sealed a place in the quarterfinals. The team kicked off the tournament with a 3-1 victory over Mohammedan Sporting and followed it up with a 5-0 thumping against Jamshedpur FC. The team produced another commanding show in their previous fixture against Indian Navy, thrashing them 4-0 to maintain their unbeaten streak.
Apuia has complete faith in his teammates and is optimistic about the Islanders' potential to lift the prestigious trophy. However, he refuses to get carried away from any of the previous results despite it depicting the picture of Mumbai's dominance in the tournament.
"It's difficult to talk about the trophy right now. Since the kind of team we are playing is the reserve team of Jamshedpur FC, so I think it's normal for us to win 5-0. Being in Mumbai City and winning against the reserved team is not something we should be proud of. But still, we have a very good chance to win this time, because most of the players from last season have stayed this season again, without a lot of reinforcement. So I think we have better chemistry between the players and we know very well what coach wants us to do. So stick to the coach's plan, I think we have a very good chance this year,” said Apuia.
Mumbai City's Mizo connection
Mumbai is also home to AIFF men's player of the year 2022-23 Lallianzuala Chhangte, who hails from the same state as Apuia, which is Mizoram. Apuia feels the presence of Chhangte, who is usually positioned in front of him in the pitch, works as a big advantage irrespective of it being a national or club fixture. He confirmed that the duo often switch to their native language, making the communication more effective, before explaining how it aids in lifting their performance.
"We have a very good chemistry. We come from the same place and we speak in our native language, which most people don't understand. So we have a very good advantage inside the pitch. We can speak in our language and communicate what we have to do. Suppose I want to pass the ball straight at him and I tell him that I'm going to pass the ball straight to him in our language, so that the opponent doesn't understand. And suppose I want to pass him a through ball. I tell him to run in our language, which they don't understand. So I think we have a very big advantage.”
'One step at a time'
Apuia is happy with the amount of international football the team is scheduled to play in the upcoming months. Apart from the King's Cup and the Asian Games, the team will be seen in action in the Merdeka Cup in October, World Cup Qualifiers in November and the Asian Cup in January. He also expressed happiness with the quality of opponents the Blue Tigers will be competing with in the upcoming matches.
"Lot of games this season compared to last season. And I think it's quite interesting because we haven't had this kind of opportunity in other seasons. So I'm looking forward to it and preparing for that and trying to get the best out of it playing against good sides. And I think that will help a lot of players, especially not only playing against some weak sides. We have a chance to play against better teams like Iraq. Even Lebanon is a good team, even Thailand.
"And even in the Asian Games we are going to face a lot of good opponents so that will only help us improve,” the midfielder said.
However, Apuia doesn't want to rush things and said that he is completely focused on the Durand Cup right now and will give his best to the national side once the time arrives.
"I haven't given much thought about the international fixtures yet since we are in the middle of Durand Cup, the only focus for me is the club right now. Try to win the tournament and give my best for the club and when I go to the national team my only focus will be the national team. So one thing at a time,” he added.
Asked to share his views on coach Stimac's appeal for a four-week preparation camp for the Asian Cup, the midfielder hoped that both the club and AIFF come to a mutual agreement, which suits both the parties. “You know it's difficult for both sides because the season is already going on. But also the reason why the coach wants a long camp is because he also wants to do well in his job. Both sides want to do well for their own part, so it's difficult to say that they should do this or that. I hope they can find their own way,” he signed off.