Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac on Wednesday said that despite most of the players taking part in the Indian Super League, the team will have to start from scratch when they play their first international matches in a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

India play Oman and UAE in Dubai in friendlies as part of preparations for the joint qualifying round matches for 2022 Fifa World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup.

Stimac said it is now a whole new beginning.

“We were planning a lot of things last year like change in scheduling of season, more games, Super Cup etc but the pandemic has destroyed everything. The team also has to start from the scratch though the players have played in ISL. International matches are altogether different.

“We wanted to give them the experience of playing stronger teams, that will give them more confidence and fearlessness in future. I have told them there should not be any pressure on them.”

The head coach revealed that he was in tears after watching the footage of his side’s defeat to Oman despite leading till the 82nd minute of their opening World Cup Qualifier in 2019.

India were leading 1-0 through a 24th minute strike from captain Sunil Chhetri in the first match of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers in Guwahati in September 2019, but Oman scored two late goals to emerge winners.

“When I looked back at earlier matches, I cried a few times. That first match (against Oman) was crucial, that match was going to determine whether we are going to fight for first two positions in group (and qualify for next round),” Stimac said at a virtual press conference.

“As it happened, with bad luck or inexperience (of players) in such important games, we fell down and that was something I always cry about.

“I felt sorry, not for myself because I have faced similar situations during my career, but for the players,” he said ahead of India’s international friendly against Oman on Thursday.

Oman are coming into Thursday’s match after playing out a 0-0 draw against Jordan on March 20.

Talking about Oman, Stimac said, “I have seen their match against Jordan. They are a really physical side, well organised and really patient. We also have worked hard and we expect a good game tomorrow.”

Stimac also said that there are no good quality players currently playing in the I-League who could be picked for the national team. All the players in the 27-member squad are from the teams of the Indian Super League which has become the top-tier event in the country.

“At the moment there is no such player (in I-League) who has quality to be able to join the national team. There is nothing to hide about it. All the best players from I-League are supposed to become part of ISL because they are all followed by ISL clubs scouting.

“Venkatesh from my staff is following all the players of the I-League. But the door is open and according to the feedback from the I-League scouting system we are going to act,” he added.

Senior player Sandesh Jhingan said that other Asian teams respected India more now.

“We are also a strong team now. That is why countries like Oman and UAE are agreeing to play with us in international friendlies because they can learn from us also, just like we learn from them.

“The respect other strong teams of the continent showed to us was not there in the Indian team 10-15 years back.”

India vs Oman - 25th March, 2021, Maktoom Bin Rashid Stadium - 19:15 Hrs (7:15 pm) IST on Eurosport HD

With PTI Inputs