The Indian men’s football team are high on confidence after a commanding performance in their opening clash of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. They outclassed Cambodia thanks to a brace from Sunil Chettri on Thursday and sit at the top of the points table in Group D.
India take on Afghanistan who lost to Hong Kong 1-2 in their opener, next at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Saturday.
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Igor Stimac’s men would like to get another win under their belt as only the winners of the six qualifying groups are assured of advancing to the finals and will be joined by the five runners-up with the best records in the qualifiers.
“The atmosphere in our dressing room is brilliant and it’s positive. It was positive before also, but we didn’t have wins prior to the tournament. It was really important to start with a win in the tournament,” Stimac said at the pres-match press conference on Friday.
“But obviously, these three points and a win against Cambodia mean nothing if we don’t get three points against Afghanistan. At the moment, as we look at the job, which we need to do here that’s why are we here. We need to win against Afghanistan simple as that,” he added.
India and Afghanistan have faced off on nine occasions, with the Blue Tigers winning on four occasions and Afghans managing to win three as their last two meetings ended in 1-1 draw. The first one was during the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers in Dushanbe. Their last meeting was in 2019 at the second leg of the same competition at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
Stimac knows certainly how challenging Afghanistan can be on their day.
“The match against Afghanistan is going to be much different (from the one against Cambodia), because you could see, if you watch the game, between Hong Kong and Afghanistan, there was lots of quality movement, lots of quality and quick passing, changing positions, many crosses into the box where Afghanistan team is good in aerials duels and they are very good in attack,” Stimac said.
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“And that’s what we need to handle. We need to stay concentrated, disciplined, and being composed on the ball in the ball possession as simple as that,” he added.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is not one to back down from a challenge and sounded ready to take on Afghanistan’s ‘good quality players’.
“From my experience, Afghanistan has always been a tough side to play against. Obviously they have good quality players, experienced players who have played in Europe and who are playing in Europe and that is one of their strong points,” Gurpreet said on Friday.
“But we love good competition and it’s always nice to play against a team who wants to fight because we like to fight as well. As the coach said it only makes sense to win the next game and move on because that’s what we are here for and that’s what we want to be,” he added.
Afghanistan boss Anoush Dastgir though minced no words when talking about the significance of the clash as they need a win to stay in contention for an AFC Asian Cup berth
“Tomorrow’s game for us will be do or die, everything or nothing,” Dastgir said ahead of the clash.
“We have watched India against Cambodia and we are preparing ourselves for the match. We know India very well, the Indian team knows us very well so tomorrow will be a great game to play and also to watch,” he added.
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