Asian Cup qualifiers: With a ‘wonderful headache’, Stimac’s India aim for the ‘big prize’ | Soccer News

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KOLKATA: With their eyes on the ‘big prize’ and having a ‘wonderful headache’, Igor Stimac’s India prepare for the Hong Kong challenge at the Salt Lake City stadium here on Tuesday, looking for a a perfect end to their Asian Cup qualifying campaign.
Both teams enter the competition with six points each, but Jorn Anderson’s Hong Kong top the standings thanks to better goal difference. The winners of six groups, currently in action across the continent, plus the five best runners-up will join the 13 teams already qualified for next year’s Asian Cup. Given the ranking in the other groups, India and Hong Kong are well placed to make the cut.
Aware of the proverbial slippage between cut and lip, however, Stimac stressed on Monday that his team would aim to seal the deal as the “winner”.
“There will be less pressure, obviously, but no less hunger and motivation. We have to come out and start playing the same way we did against Afghanistan to win this game against Hong Kong,” he said. said the Indian coach on Monday.
His captain, Sunil Chhetri, echoed that sentiment. “There is a big prize at the end of this tournament, which is qualifying for the Asian Cup. Even though we have done well in the last two games, we haven’t achieved anything yet. We have to finish the tournament on a positive and perfect note,” Chhetri asserted, speaking to the media.
Stimac’s side have never been far from the microscope, but this time around they have shown promise to thrive through thick and thin, the never-ending victory over Afghanistan being the latest example. And that gives the coach a “wonderful headache”.
Asked if Sahal Abdul Samad, who orchestrated the 2-1 win over Afghanistan with their injury-time winner, would make the starting XI on Tuesday, Stimac replied with a smile: “We need legs fresh, but after watching the game against Afghanistan, tell me who are you going to leave. We have to be reasonable in the decision-making, but it’s a wonderful puzzle to have.”
Stimac, however, expects a different kind of test from Andersen. “Cambodia’s style was such that it required patience. Afghanistan looked aggressive and tough physically. But Hong Kong are very organized and disciplined. Technically they are the second best team in the group,” said observed the India coach.
The build-up to this climax of AFC Cup qualifying in Group D may involve mischievous rhetoric, but overall no team can think of this game as less of a contest and more of a crowning achievement.
As Hong Kong coach, they stressed that they are ready to face India as a collective unit. “India are the strongest team in terms of the rankings. They have huge home support. But we will approach them with a specific plan and face them as a unit,” Andersen said.
Hong Kong may top the table, but form and momentum are with the hosts. As Chhetri pointed out: At the start of the tournament, the coach made sure that we play the tournament to win and we are going to do that.”
They’ve done it before, and it’s time for Chhetri and Co. to speak once more.



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