The Indian men’s football team head coach Igor Stimac said that since his side will not have any training sessions, it intends to use the travelling time for tactical preparation, ahead of its Asian Games opening fixture in Hangzhou on Tuesday.
The team’s Asian Games preparations were scuppered by the dispute between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Indian Super League (ISL) clubs over the release of their players for the continental competition.
After a few back-and-forths, a second-string squad was announced late on Friday leaving Stimac hardly any time for the build-up for the match against host China on Tuesday.
“The players are arriving at the airport at 5-6 p.m. today. We have a flight at 10 p.m. and will reach Hong Kong at 7 a.m. We then need to wait another 5-6 hours to take a flight to Hangzhou, where we will reach at 5 p.m. (on Monday). We will not have a single training session prior to the game. We will give tactical preparation at the airport and on the flight. We need to let players rest once we reach Hangzhou before the first game,” the Croat lamented.
India is grouped with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar with three matches scheduled in the space of five days.
“There is no reason to look back now. It’s time to focus on what can be done within our power to open the tournament with a good fight. We cannot expect more. More importantly, I will need to approach this very carefully and discuss with the players about their physical conditions,” Stimac added.
“I am meeting many of them for the first time and it will help me make up my mind about them. There is no time to cry now and go back. We will have to just use this time wisely.”
Stimac also noted that he will take a call on whether to risk the services of striker Sunil Chhetri and defender Sandesh Jhingan, two senior-most players in the squad, for the opener with one eye on the FIFA World Cup qualifiers next month.
“I am not thinking about the China game. I am thinking about Bangladesh and Myanmar. Don’t be surprised if I leave out Sunil [Chhetri] and Jhingan for the first game,” he said.
“Sunil missed full pre-season with Bengaluru FC because of paternity leave. We won’t risk Sunil getting injured before the World Cup qualifiers. We will sit down and talk to Sunil and Jhingan.”
Stimac’s original squad request had senior national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu along with several experienced U-24 players, who have played for India. But the current group has several names who are fringe players in the ISL or yet to play in the top division.
“These things [squad selection issues] are following us continuously. We are getting players just before kick-off. I think it’s unjust. These elements are happening,” said the 56-year-old.
“In the final list which is there, there are some experienced players. But what I have in my mind is to look at World Cup qualifiers. This tournament is for players to show their talent and show they deserve better opportunities with their ISL teams.”
The squad also lacks a recognised fullback with the 22-man travelling group comprising three goalkeepers, five central defenders, four midfielders and 10 attackers. Stimac said he will rely on Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Ayush Chhetri in the central midfield duties while making note of Deepak Tangri’s recent return from ACL surgery.
“These are the only players we have got. We will have to use wingers in fullback or even have them fill in at center-back,” said Stimac.