AIFF Media Team
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand, located in the middle of the lush green Thai highlands, almost 700 kilometres north of the bustling capital of Bangkok, making it a rather outlying town.
However, there was no shortage of support for the Indian senior men's team when they landed at the airport on Monday night ahead of the 49th King's Cup 2023. Officials of the Consulate of India in Chiang Mai and many Indian locals welcomed the Blue Tigers, showering them with garlands and 'Chak de India!' chants, to the pleasant surprise of the Indian squad.
There were showers outside as well, as it began raining heavily. "I like such weather," mentions head coach Igor Stimac. "I played in England for six years and enjoyed the weather, but in England, it's not so hot like here."
With more rain forecasted during the entire week, could the weather help India's cause since they are no strangers to playing in the rain in humid conditions? Yes and no, according to Stimac. "The rain might help refresh our players' legs and brains. But the weather and the quality of the pitch is the same for everyone. There will be no advantages in regard to that (against Iraq). We are both playing on the foreign soil," says the Croatian, who turns 56 on Wednesday, the eve of the match.
"My birthday is coming. I hope they can bring some joy to my birthday against Iraq," laughs Stimac.
Enlivened after meeting the boys for the first time since the euphoria of the SAFF Championship and Intercontinental triumphs, Stimac cannot wait for his first training session on Tuesday. "I missed them a lot. Now I'll see how much they missed me," he chuckles.
On a serious note, there's not much time to settle in ahead of the big game against Iraq, even less so for the Mohun Bagan SG and East Bengal players involved in the Durand Cup final. "Congratulations to those who won the final on Sunday. We need to get ready. We don't have much time. Obviously, there's work for us to do with some of the boys fatigued after the final. So we are going to be careful organising regeneration sessions for them and working with and preparing the rest of the boys who are fresh," states Stimac.
The King's Cup semi-final will be India's 12th match of the year and the first one abroad. Stimac has time and again expressed his gratitude to the crowd support received in Imphal, Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru, and how Indian fans pushed them to win three trophies this year. So when asked if he had any message he'd like to give to the fans back home in India, Stimac, with the widest of smiles, only had four words - "I love you all!"