India beat Lebanon 2-0 on Sunday to win the 2023 Intercontinental Cup but for coach Igor Stimac, the work is just half done.
Speaking in the post-match press conference after the final, Stimac said, “We are halfway from our goal. I have already forgotten this match. We’re looking forward to three days time when we play Pakistan (at the upcoming SAFF Championship). That’s how I see it. Nothing is done yet.
India finished at the top of the group stage of the four-nation event in Bhubaneswar, having beaten Mongolia, Vanuatu and then drawing against Lebanon, to qualify for the final.
“Everything goes like I told you it would go. First couple of games it is suffering and it will be adjusting to the conditions and our opponents,” said Stimac.
“To keep the legs running. I told you that it will be different after the second game and it was.
“I know we can do better. As a coach, I cannot show satisfaction. I am happy now but we are not going to stop working, we will look to do better and push for more. Lebanon is already behind us, they are not a better-ranked side, sorry to say that, but we jumped over them a few days ago. There is still a long way to go. When you go out there and face Australia and Uzbekistan, you really need to be ready for everything. We need to be ready for all sorts of quality. We are going to get there. Give me time, I will get you there. Don’t give me time, don’t expect nothing,” he added.
In the final at the Kalinga Stadium on Sunday, India started the match brightly but couldn’t convert their chances. However, they scored right after kick-off with captain Sunil Chhetri scoring inside 60 seconds after some good work on the wing from Nikhil Poojary and Lallianzuala Chhangte.
“It is better you don’t know what I said,” Stimac said about his half-time team-talk with the players. “We were terrible from the 10th minute to the 45th minute. That was the worst 35 minutes since I have come here to India. (We played) without control, without the idea, without respecting what we were talking about or showing freshness which we should show.”
India scored again with Chhangte getting on the end off a rebound from Naorem Mahesh Singh’s shot. The latter was lively after his introduction with Stimac happy with the work of his substitutes.
“When I am changing the players, I make sure that we don’t lose speed, we don’t lose the height, we don’t lose tackles, we don’t lose aggression,” he explained. “Whoever is coming from the bench needs to make a positive impact on the pitch. That is how coaches are planning for the game. We are planing the game with 16 players, not 11.”
India will next play in the SAFF Championships in Bengaluru where they will potentially play five matches should they reach the final. While Stimac is happy that he is getting an extended period of time with the national team, the Croatian said that the team’s actual preparations for the AFC Asian Cup will only begin in December.
“We are using every second of our time on making improvements. Five games left in the next 12 days. It is going to be another challenge but we are going to get there to the final line. This doesn’t mean anything,” Stimac said.
“You know what is in January next year. Who will survive until then? Are we going to have all these players which we worked with? You expect me to give results and I accept that. You expect me to provide results everytime but everytime, in a big way, the team is different. Some of them are injured, some of them are out of form in the club because they play in different positions. This is not what I need. I need to keep being patient and suffer and every time I need to introduce six-seven new players and work with them from scratch. That is not the process. The most important time for us is December. All this, forget it,” he added.
India is placed in Group A of the SAFF Championship. The hosts begin their campaign on June 21 against Pakistan before playing Nepal and Kuwait on June 24 and June 27 respectively.
The other four teams competing at the event – in Group B – are Lebanon, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh.