Describing India’s inability to score goals as “an old problem”, head coach Igor Stimac on Tuesday said the team cannot be dependent on just one player to find the opposition net, in an apparent reference to talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri. India have so far scored two goals in the ongoing SAFF Championships and both came through 37-year-old Chhetri, who equalled legendary Pele with his 77th strike in the match against Nepal. “I’m quite happy with our performance in last three games — looking at the way we played, at possession numbers. We dominated them and our goalkeeper wasn’t much disturbed,” Stimac said at the media conference ahead of India’s last round-robin league match against hosts Maldives.
“But there is an old problem which is following us and that’s converting chances. We cannot be dependent on just one player and need to be more confident in front of goal,” he added.
Currently at third spot with five points from three matches, India need nothing less than a win against Maldives to stay in reckoning for the final of the regional tournament.
A draw or a loss will knock India out and that will be the worst result for the country in recent memory, which could also raise doubts about Stimac’s continuation at the helm of affairs.
The worst performance for seven-time champions India before this edition was the third-place finish in 2003 and the country has either won or finished runners-up in 11 previous editions.
“The situation is a bit easier for Maldives as they need just a draw, and hence, it’s clear what we need to do in tomorrow’s game,” said the Croatian.
The head coach said the win against Nepal has boosted the confidence of his players.
“The best motivation is to win games. It wasn’t easy to have two back-to-back draws in the first two games. Hence, it was a kind of a relief for all the players to beat Nepal. They needed confidence. “In fact, they deserved to win all the three games but in football, you cannot win unless you score goals.”
Talking about opposition team, he said, “Maldives are a much-improved side. They are more compact than they were before. They stress more on passing and possession-based football. They are creating chances, and their movements are great upfront.”
“There is a reasonable understanding between (star striker) Ali Ashfaq and others. They know how to move when Ashfaq has the ball, and he knows where they are running without even looking at them. But how they are going to play also depends on us – as to how much we let them play. If my midfielders and defenders do what I expect them to do, Maldives shouldn’t be able to play much.” Stimac said Wednesday’s match is going to witness two great veterans on the pitch — Ashfaq for Maldives and Chhetri for India.
“It’s a joy to watch them play, and if they were playing in the same team, it would have been a great combination for any coach.”
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