India went into competitive mode when they faced seven-time winners Bangladesh in the SAFF Championship at the National Football Stadium in Male, Maldives on Monday.
National football team coach Igor Stimac said after the team’s practice session that “the first game is always the hardest game” and added about opponents Bangladesh, “Bangladesh is a known opponent, but we respect them a lot. Indeed. We respect every team that plays here, and they have an equal chance of winning the tournament.
“The message from our coaching staff and the national head coach is very clear,” Sunil Chhetri said at the press conference on the eve of the match.
“It is more and more how we play. We have to make sure that we minimize our mistakes, and we have to make sure that in every game we give 100 per cent. We cannot be complacent,” Sunil he said.
It is raining and according to the local meteorological department, unlike monsoon, the rains will not last for the whole day. “We never take rain seriously at this time of year, unless there is a warning from the Met Office. If it is raining just take shelter, check your mobile for 10 minutes. By that time the rain will subside,” said Ibrahim, a former footballer and local coordinator of the India team.
Stimac made no secret that he would make the most of ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC players who played in the Maldives earlier in the AFC Cup. “We trust Bengaluru FC and ATKMB players because not only did they play here a few weeks back, but they also started working with their respective clubs. And they had enough training sessions and games. So their engines are good for such tournaments,” the national coach told the-aiff.com. “We need to be careful how many minutes we give to each player in line with what we can do at the moment with regards to endurance capacity.”
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who was part of the winning team in 2015, said: “The teams have improved a lot since the last time we played them. Teams have become more organized, and they know how to play according to the weaknesses of the other team. Now you can’t take any team lightly.
Sunil, a 16-year veteran in international football, insisted that he does not want to lose any game for the country. “When you are young you play for a lot of things. As you get older, a lot less of them. I have played more than 100 matches for India, I don’t have another 100 matches and I want to make the most of all my remaining games. If I am playing for my country, I want to win a game. Both the matches against Bangladesh have been extremely tough. I don’t want to lose any match for my country.
Stimac also referred to Udant Singh, who got a “deserved call-up” in the national team. “Udanta is one of the 23 players we have here. He deserved that call with his last game playing for Bengaluru in the AFC Cup. Udanta was not playing in his natural position in the last two years,” explained Stimac. “We need him to come back to his best – hitting straight with his pace, executing and creating chances.”
Kick-off is tomorrow (Monday, October 4) at 4.30 PM IST.
Live telecast of India matches on Eurosport
India’s matches in the SAFF Championship will be broadcast live on Eurosport. India will play its first match against Bangladesh on 4 October, followed by Sri Lanka on 7 October, Nepal on 10 October and Maldives on 13 October.
AIFF thanked Eurosport for telecasting India’s matches in the SAFF Championship, and having full faith in Eurosport’s technical expertise, the Federation looks forward to providing them with a seamless live viewing experience for all fans.
As per the format, five teams will compete in a round robin format, with the top two teams progressing to the final which is scheduled to take place on 16 October.
India’s matches in the group stage are as follows:
October 4: Bangladesh v India (4.30 pm IST).
7 October: India vs Sri Lanka (4.30 PM IST).
10 October: Nepal vs India (9.30 pm IST).
13 October: India vs Maldives (9:00 pm IST).