Senior National Team
With a clear mindset, Blue Tigers eye maximum points against Afghanistan
14 Mar 2024

Sruti Chakraborty
AIFF Media Team

BHUBANESWAR: There are just a few days left for the March 2024 FIFA window, a crucial few days for the Blue Tigers, who will play two back-to-back FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Joint Qualifiers Round 2 matches against Afghanistan.

India head coach Igor Stimac sounded optimistic about his side’s chances as they get ready for their two matches against Afghanistan, the first of which will take place in Abha, Saudi Arabia on March 21 (March 22, 12:30 am IST), and in Guwahati on March 26 at 7 pm IST.

Speaking from the sidelines of the AFC Cup Inter-Zone Semi-final match between Odisha FC and Central Coast Mariners FC (Australia) at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Stimac said, “We will go there to try and win the game. We are not looking at any massive calculations right now. Once we all get there, we will start talking about how to win the game from the very first second."

India had begun their FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Joint Qualification Round 2 campaign with a 1-0 victory against Kuwait in Kuwait City, before suffering a 0-3 loss at the hands of Qatar in Bhubaneswar. The Blue Tigers currently stand level on three points with Kuwait but have an inferior goal difference in Group A.

They will be looking to bring their performances back on track after the disappointments of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 in January, when India lost against Australia (0-2), Uzbekistan (0-3), and Syria (0-1) in Qatar. The India head coach has his priorities in place, however, stating that making it to Round 3 of the World Cup Qualifiers for the first time is the biggest aim for his side right now.

“We are not a club that can work with the players on a daily basis. If you speak about the Asian Cup, it was of course a disappointment, but mostly for those who were not following us regularly. The expectations were high without any base,” said Stimac. “That’s behind us, and I’m happy that we have more important things to do now. The focus is on getting from the second phase to the third phase of qualifying.”

A top-two finish in their group in the qualifiers will guarantee progression to Round 3 of the qualifiers for the Blue Tigers, something that they have never achieved before; progression to Round 3 will also ensure direct qualification for AFC Asian Cup 2027.

Speaking about the away match against Afghanistan, Stimac said that the opponents have been doing everything within their abilities to win the games.

“Afghanistan did everything to make it difficult for us, which was expected. Choosing Abha as their home venue at 2,270 metres altitude was a clever decision,” said Stimac. “Playing there requires great endurance.

“Whatever the case may be, we are going there with a clear mindset, and we’re looking for the points,” he said. “Most of our boys are in decent form at their clubs, and hopefully we can overcome all difficulties and find a way to manage the game in a positive way.”

Whatever the situation may be, Stimac’s wards are in no need of additional motivation, as they all share the same dream.“They all have the same dream, so we don’t need to inject any motivation into them. We have never made it to Round 3 before, and if we do that, it will then give them new dreams, to qualify for the World Cup in the future,” he said.

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