Doha: He is ‘more than happy’ with the solitary point that the Indian football team snatched by drawing against Asian champion Qatar but coach Igor Stimac says he has told the players to stay grounded as they can’t afford complacency during FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
The former Croatian international wants the Indian players to stay focussed and garner more points in their upcoming matches. India dished out a gritty performance to Qatar to a goalless draw in a FIFA World Cup Round 2 qualifying match here on Tuesday night.
“As a coach, I don’t have time to waste in thinking too much higher than it was a few days ago when we lost to Oman. Still as a coach, of course, I am more than happy to get a point against the reigning champions of Asia,” Stimac said at the post-match press conference here. “We need to improve in certain areas, on the other hand, all congratulations not just to my players but also for Qatar. There was excitement in front of both goals, of course. It was a great experience for us. All credits to my players, I am very proud of my players. But the message to the team is to
keep yourself down as it is just a point,” he added.
Despite playing without their talismanic captain and striker Sunil Chhetri, who was laid low by fever, the Indians denied Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January, despite the home side managing more than a dozen shots on target. “Qatar deserved more from this game. They created more chances but we also had many chances,” Stimac said.
Stimac also took a potshot at those who criticised his team’s fitness levels after India lost 1-2 to Oman in their campaign-opener, with both Oman goals coming in the final eight minutes. The coach asserted that fitness was never a problem for his side. “You see, I cannot reply to each comment after a game because not many people are well educated about football. We are a fit team and we proved it. We played against Qatar and we made space for ourselves even in the last minutes. We made sprints even in the 95th minute, showing a lot of concentration. So we showed good fitness,” Stimac said.
Star goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, who also stepped in as captain for the game believes anything is possible in football after the gritty show by India. “I feel extremely proud of the team for our performance against Qatar. The team-effort helped us achieve the result. It will help us immensely in the qualifiers. We have played just two matches, and we have played well, that too against two powerful teams. It gives us that added motivation and confidence that in football, anything is possible,” he added.
Custodian Gurpreet, who was unbeatable under the Indian bar, credited the entire team for stealing an unexpected point from the away match. “Everyone played their hearts out and gave everything out on the pitch. That enabled us to come back to the dressing room, satisfied, and with a very crucial point,” he said.
While Qatar is still leading the pack with four points from two matches, India is currently at the fourth spot with one point from two matches. Gurpreet also thanked the Indian fans, who had turned up in large numbers. “It was like playing at home away from home. The support was incredible. They spurred us on, cheering us all throughout,” he said. India will host Bangladesh in their next match of the qualifiers 15 October.