Late on Tuesday evening, after India’s SAFF Championship triumph right here, Igor Stimac was brusque in terming the victory as a not-so-important milestone in India’s journey in direction of the AFC Asian Cup.
There’s some advantage in it, for the marquee continental competitors is greater than six months away and India, over the approaching months, will check itself in two better-quality four-nation occasions – King’s Cup (Thailand) and Merdeka Event (Malaysia). It could even be Stimac’s means of not letting his gamers get forward of themselves.
However the fortnight was not with out features for India. The marketing campaign – together with the Intercontinental Cup success in Bhubaneswar – has helped assemble a settled squad, develop a progressive fashion of play and instil a never-say-die angle.
“After we joined the camp [ahead of the Intercontinental Cup], we have been a bit jittery due to the lengthy 12 months we had had,” captain Sunil Chhetri had mentioned earlier than the SAFF Championship semifinal in opposition to Lebanon.
“It took us a few week, and after that we have been having fun with the camp. Now, after the one-and-half months, the mixtures, the camaraderie, the brotherhood is on the peak. Having performed all of the laborious work, we don’t need to let it go.”
This cohesiveness could possibly be seen throughout the pitch as effectively. In defence, India conceded simply twice in 9 matches throughout two tournaments. 5 of those video games got here in opposition to strong West Asian opponents in Kuwait and Lebanon.
Beneath the steerage of the skilled trio of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh (each goalkeepers) and Sandesh Jhingan, the likes of Anwar Ali (centre-back), Nikhil Poojary and Akash Rai (each fullbacks) prospered.
In assault, regardless that Chhetri continues to do the majority of the creating and scoring, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sahal Abdul Samad and Naorem Mahesh confirmed indicators of coming to the celebration.
And the spirit that sure the entire aspect was evident in the best way India bounced again within the remaining after falling behind and shedding Anwar to an harm. As a substitute of slipping right into a defensive shell, the hosts took the sport to Kuwait and equalised via a splendidly labored discipline aim.
“We didn’t quit even after being a aim down, regardless that that was our weakest second,” Gurpreet mentioned. “Exhibiting resilience, being artistic and scoring a implausible aim. All credit score to the boys.”
The bodily health of the aspect additionally stood out, and for inspiration, it didn’t must look past the 38-year-old Chhetri, who displayed childlike enthusiasm in finishing two draining 120-minute contests in a four-day window.
“The health ranges have been so excessive and it was great to maintain the consistency [of not conceding],” mentioned Mahesh Gawli, who deputised admirably effectively for Stimac in each the semifinals and remaining. “The nation might be pleased with these boys.”