As India was trounced by UAE 0-6 in the second friendly in Dubai on Monday, the defeat did not go down well among the fans in the country. But Blue Tigers head coach Igor Stimac thinks differently as according to him it was a test of new players' strength against the formidable set-up of the hosts.
Before the loss against UAE, the Blue Tigers played exceptionally well and registered a 1-1 draw against the higher-ranked Oman.
Stimac gave 11 youngsters an opportunity to make their India debut in the two friendlies. While 10 players, Ashutosh Mehta, Chinglensana Singh, Akash Mishra, Suresh Wangjam, Jeakson Singh, Bipin Singh, Mohammed Yasir, Ishan Pandita, Lalengmawia and Mashoor Shereef made their debuts against Oman, Hyderabad FC winger Liston Colaco played his maiden match against UAE.
"The two results come in very different circumstances. Apart from the fact that in both cases UAE won, we can't compare those matches in any other segment. In 2019, both the teams (India and UAE) played in the group stages of the AFC Asian Cup -- the Continental Championship to which both teams had headed after having prepared for a long time. Both the teams came in with their best and most experienced players which was at their disposal," All India Football Federation quoted Stimac as saying.
"In 2021, it was a friendly match which we used to check the strength of our new players against the best striking line-up of UAE that has been playing together for a long time. It is unusual and surprising that many are now trying to create a bad atmosphere around us," he added.
When Stimac was asked about the role of two friendlies, he said, "The sole reason we played these games against Oman and UAE was to check how much our guys are able to match strong teams at the moment. And it wouldn't be fair if we hadn't given everyone a chance in their positions to check them out, and get the answers we are looking for. It was easier against Oman because they also went out of the competitive rhythm, but it was entirely different against UAE wherein the competitive rhythm was at the maximum -- their championship is in full swing.
"We have a talented youth set-up that needs to be given time, and peace at work. We believe in them -- they are the best we have, and all together we are obliged to give them the opportunity to mature for greater achievements. Defeats are part of that path. They are painful but it serves to teach and mature them," he added.
Stimac feels that his side is on course of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
"In the previous 2018 WCQ India finished last in the group with seven defeats, one victory, with a total of three points and GD of -13 (minus 13). The Blue Tigers had suffered five losses in the first five games. Now, after five games played, with many new players in the team, we have three points and a very solid goal difference, and are on course to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023," he said.
"Not to forget that we held Qatar in Qatar, and that set of players are to play the World Cup next year. The Oman match was close (in the qualifiers), a match which we should have killed. But inexperience cost us. And among the two recently played matches, my young set of boys fought gallantly to hold Oman 1-1.
"If you want to compare the recent friendly matches, then you need to take a closer look at teams India has played against before, and with whom since I have been in charge. One heavy defeat will certainly not make us give up and return to the pleasure of defeating opponents who do not pose any obstacle in Asian football," he added.
( With inputs from ANI )
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