Indian football team under Igor Stimac have received praise for most of their performances despite not always coming away with the right result. But in the international friendly against Oman, it was quite the opposite. The Blue Tigers were far from their best but through a moment of quality from Bipin Singh and Manvir Singh, managed to secure a 1-1 draw against a team ranked 23 places above them in the Fifa rankings.

But against the United Arab Emirates, a team that is 40 places above India in the rankings, an average performance will not be enough.

Thus Stimac in the build-up to the game has been stressing upon the areas that his inexperienced Indian players must improve on to compete against these teams on a consistent basis.

“UAE are even tougher than Oman, so I expect a very tough match. They (UAE) are technically a better side, play quicker football and they will give a lot of pressure on us,” Stimac said during the pre-match press conference.

He added: “But that is something we want to face and that is why we are playing international friendly against them. I don’t expect my players to control the game but we have to find a way to compete against them.”

Adapting will be key

India had a poor first half against Oman as they struggled to keep the ball and find an outlet to attack Oman. The Blue Tigers got away with it as their opponents missed a penalty and only held a single-goal lead at the break.

The Croatian has urged his players to quickly adapt to the international stage where they won’t get the time and space afforded to them in the ISL.

“In international football, if you give space to opposition players you will suffer. These are the areas we need to work on,” the head coach said.

“Our players will need to understand that this is not ISL (Indian Super League) where there is a lot of space and time to control the ball in the middle. If you behave the way you do in ISL in international matches you will be badly hurt,” he added.

The NorthEast United midfielder Lalengmawia, who made his national team debut coming on as a half-time substitute made a telling impact on the game as India definitely improved in the central midfield area after his arrival.

Stimac confirmed that he will be involved from the start against UAE but highlighted that result depends on the collective success of his team and not how well a player performs.

“There is no time and space in international football. You need to play 1-2, you need to be quick, sharp and you need to control your players in the middle and follow his runs behind. We are working on these (areas) and will be better in the future,” he said.

The Croatian handed debuts to ten players against Oman and stated that he will continue to experiment even against UAE.

Changes on the cards

The UAE had won three matches out of the four played between the two sides in the last decade while one game ended in a draw.

“We are going to see everyone who did not play in the first game in the match against UAE. These are friendly matches which I will use to find out the best (players) for the upcoming matches (World Cup qualifiers),” the head coach said.

“I can tell you Sandesh is not going to be involved against UAE. I will have to play Adil Khan also. It will not be justice to the remaining players if they are not fielded in these friendly matches.”

Out of from UAE

Ranked 8th in Asia, UAE will be more than a formidable test for India, but they can draw inspiration from their match against UAE at the 2019 Asian Cup group stage in which they had created a lot of scoring chances even though they lost 0-2.

India paid dearly for poor finishing in that match while luck also did not favour them as two shots hit the framework.

UAE are one of the strongest sides in Asia and they reached the semi-finals in the 2019 Asian Cup they hosted. But they have been struggling a bit recently.

In the four international matches they have played after the Covid-19 lockdown, they have lost twice – against Uzbekistan and Bahrain – and won one – against Tajikistan. Their last match – against Iraq – had ended in a goalless draw in January. Since then, Monday’s match against India will be their first international match.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said the Indian team under Stimac has always adopted a fearless approach and gone into every game aiming to win irrespective of the opponent they are facing. It will be no different against UAE. However, against Bert van Marwijk’s team, the Blue Tigers would need a bit more than just a positive approach to get a positive result.

India vs UAE will be LIVE on EUROSPORT and EUROSPORT HD from 8:30 PM IST

India Squad: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Dheeraj Singh, Ashutosh Mehta, Akash Mishra, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh, Adil Khan, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mashoor Shereef, Rowllin Borges, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Raynier Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa, Bipin Singh, Yasir Mohammad, Suresh Singh, Halicharan Narzary, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Manvir Singh, Ishan Pandita, Hitesh Sharma, Liston Colaco.

With PTI inputs