India Depends Upon Sunil to Defeat Afghanistan

When Sunil Chhetri wins a match by scoring a goal alone, he gets a little worried. Indian coach Igor Stimac wants the rest of the footballers to be active too, apart from the captain. But even then, Sunil is the trump card for defeating Afghanistan at the Yuvabharathi Stadium on Saturday.

Why? “While Sunil is in the team, I am not worried about whether anyone other than him has scored a goal. When he is not there, others will score,” Igor told at a news conference at Yuvabharathi on Friday afternoon. Before the practice started in the evening, Igor called Sunil and Sandesh Jhingan and went to a corner of the field. After talking for about five minutes, he started preparing.

Worries about Afghanistan

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India is ranked 106th in the FIFA rankings. Afghanistan ranks 150th. In the first match, Farshad Noor lost to Hong Kong. Despite this, Igor is not very comfortable. One) Most of the footballers of Afghanistan national team play in European clubs. 2) Physical football is the main weapon of Sharif Mukhammad. The coach of the Indian team said, “It is true that Afghan footballers do not play in the highest leagues in Europe. But the standard of the lower tier leagues is also much higher than that of ISL. This is why they show some arrogance on the field. That must be accepted. There is nothing wrong with that.” He added: “Afghan footballers are far ahead of us in physical strength. We may not be in direct conflict with them. So you have to play smart.”

Strategy described by the coach

How? The national coach explained, “Everyone has to be in the right place during the game. The situation needs to be monitored. The attack should not be stopped. We have to try to keep the ball in our possession.” Sitting next to the coach, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also said, “They should not be allowed to play their normal game. We have to be careful with high balls.” What Igor didn’t say publicly was that he wanted to destroy Afghanistan’s tactics of picking up the ball with both ends and floating the ball in the opponent’s penalty box for the strikers. 

It’s not the end. Afghanistan coach Anoush Dastgir said at a press conference that they are not only thinking about Sunil. But Igor knows that the main goal of Afghan footballers like Cambodia will be to prevent the Indian captain from playing. In order to reduce the pressure on Sunil, he can give extra responsibility to Liston Colaco. Before the practice started, he called the ATK-Mohun Bagan star in the midfield and talked for a long time.

Defeating Afghanistan on Saturday will ensure India’s qualification for the main draw of the Asian Cup. So every time there is talk of India’s victory over Cambodia in the first match or Afghanistan’s loss to Hong Kong, Igor said, “The three points we gained against Cambodia would be worthless if we cannot beat Afghanistan. We want to start from scratch.”