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More than happy to get a point: Stimac
He is ‘more than happy’ with the solitary point the Indian football team snatched by drawing against Asian champion Qatar but coach Igor Stimac said he has told the players to stay grounded as they can’t afford complacency during the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
The former Croatian international wants the Indian players to stay focussed and garner more points in their upcoming matches. India dished out a gritty performance and held Qatar to a goalless draw in a FIFA World Cup Round 2 qualifying match here on Tuesday.
“As a coach, of course, I am more than happy to get a point against the reigning champion of Asia. We need to improve in certain areas. All congratulations not just to my players but also to Qatar. There was excitement in front of both goals,” Stimac said at the post-match press conference here.
“It was a great experience for us. All credit to my players, I am very proud of them. But the message to the team is to keep itself down as it is just a point,” he added. Despite playing without their talismanic captain and striker Sunil Chhetri, who was laid low by fever, the Indians shared the spoils with Qatar, which won the Asian Cup title in January.
Although the home side managed more than a dozen shots on target, it failed to get past the Indian defence. “Qatar deserved more from this game. It created more chances but even we had ours,” stated Stimac. The gaffer also took a potshot at those who criticised his team’s fitness levels after India lost 1-2 to Oman in its campaign opener, with both Oman goals coming in the final eight minutes.
The coach asserted that fitness is never a problem for his side. “You see, I cannot reply to each comment after a game because not many people are well educated about football. We are a fit team and we proved it (on Tuesday),” he responded.
“We played against Qatar and we made space for ourselves even in the last few minutes. We made sprints even in the 95th minute, showing a lot of concentration,” Stimac explained. India will play Bangladesh in its next World Cup qualifying match in Kolkata on October 15 and the coach expects a full house at the mecca of Indian football. “Our country has a population of over 1.3 billion people. Compared to that, this was a very small crowd. I want to see 80,000 people in Kolkata. We deserve that and the fans need to come out and support us,” Stimac signed off.
Stand-in skipper Gurpreet hails team effort
India stand-in captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was unbeatable under the bar as India held Qatar to a goalless draw. Reacting after the match, Sandhu said he is extremely proud of the way the side performed and gave its all against the reigning Asian champion. “The team effort helped us achieve the result. It will help us immensely in the qualifiers,” Sandhu was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website. “We have played just two matches, and we have played well, that too against powerful teams. It gives us that added motivation and confidence that in football, anything is possible.” The custodian, who represents Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League, felt his teammates gave everything on the pitch. “Everyone played their hearts out. That enabled us to come back to the dressing room, satisfied, and with a very crucial point,” he added. Following a heart-breaking loss against Oman in Guwahati six days ago, the draw earned the ‘Blue Tigers’ its first point in the ongoing qualifiers. While Qatar is still leading the pack with four points from two matches, India is currently at the fourth spot with one point from the same number of games.