Indian football head coach Igor Stimac said he would have preferred to spend more time on the training ground with the team instead of the games they played at the King’s Cup and Intercontinental Cup, ahead of India’s first Asian World Cup qualifying game against Oman on Thursday.

The Croatian said he preferred players spending more time learning the new style of play introduced by him rather than playing games ahead of the qualifiers.

“The tournaments were organised before I was announced as the head coach. I would have wanted to prepare slightly differently for the qualifiers,” Stimac said at the pre-match press conference in Guwahati on Wednesday. The Croatian was referring to the King’s Cup in Thailand and the Intercontinental Cup in India that the team participated in.

“For me, the most important thing was the training sessions. I had to have training sessions and also play matches. I was not happy to play the games as I was not getting the necessary time to implement the new style of football. If you spend more days in playing matches and not train then there is a setback for you,” he added listing down the challenges he’s had to overcome since taking over as head coach in May.

Stressing on the need to train, Stimac once again highlighted the change in playing philosophy under his tutelage.

“We aren’t playing with the same style that the Indian team has played [in the past]. We have tried to introduce many Indian players into the national team which are our bright future and which we can build on. We have great hope about the future of Indian football.” the Croatian said.

‘Want to build an Indian style of football’

Further elaborating on the new style of play in Indian football, Stimac stated that he was keen to build an Indian style of play according to the qualities of players at his disposal rather than adopt the Croatian football philosophy.

“I’m not bringing Croatian style into Indian football. I’m trying to build Indian style for the players in Indian football. You cannot bring something from your country and try to implement it here,” the 51-year-old said.

He felt it was important for India to have tactical flexibility in order to stand up to stronger teams and be able to compete against them.

“Football is the same for everyone in the world. Everyone would love to play technical football with lots of passing, possession and creating lots of chances. But when the opponent is very strong like Oman you can’t do that. You have to defend and counter-attack well.

“We are building up different styles of play because there will be times when you have to face Qatar which is absolutely the best team in Asia. What are you going to do there? Insist on having possession of the ball? I don’t think so. We need to be clever, we need to be smart. So we cannot always concentrate on this technical aspect and ball possession. We need to be ready to adapt to different styles of the game depending on the opponent, and depending on our fitness,” he added.

While the Indian team showed glimpses of fast, possession-based style in their games so far, their performances were marred by defensive deficiencies that saw them concede 13 goals in five matches. Stimac admitted his side needed to improve on that front but felt confident of a much better defensive performance against Oman on Thursday.

“We conceded some silly goals and that was not different from the past. We also played against difficult opponents. But against Thailand and against Syria we showed that we can handle good teams. We can play as an organised team for ninety minutes. That will be our aim for tomorrow’s game. Have a good, strong defensive block and play an organised game in each part of the pitch,” the Croatian stated.

India face a tough start to their Asian Cup campaign as they travel to Asian champions Qatar on Tuesday after the game against Oman. The Blue Tigers’ mettle will be tested in these two games and their chances of progressing to the next round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 Fifa World Cup largely hinge on their start to these matches.