The Indian men's football team will be returning to the international fold after over a year, when they take on Oman (March 25) and UAE (March 29) in friendlies next month. And a happy Igor Stimac has stated that all that matters for his team is to play against better opponents, and not how it will affect their FIFA rankings.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had also contacted Iran for a friendly, but the Persian Stars were reluctant on playing away from home in Dubai - the venue for India's friendlies against Oman and UAE. The two international fixtures come as a huge relief for the Indian team, who played their last game (friendly or competitive) in November 2019.
The games against Oman and UAE will lay down a stern challenge for the Blue Tigers given the fact that both the teams are ranked higher than them in the FIFA rankings. But it doesn't bother coach Stimac.
“Many people are too often looking at Fifa rankings. That is not important,” Igor Stimac told Times of India. “We have to play better teams. I don’t want opponents who are easy to beat. I don’t care about statistics and numbers. We have to look at the long-term development of Indian football."
India have lost to Oman twice in their FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers and had also squared off against UAE in the Asian Cup 2019. Stimac says that these friendlies will serve as a preparation for the qualifiers in June.
“We reacted quickly (after the postponement of qualifiers in March). It’s been a long time since we played and we could not let go of this window (for friendly matches). I am happy we will face Oman again, while UAE, everyone knows, are contenders (to qualify) in their group,” said Stimac.
The Indian national football team will arrive in their camp in Dubai on March 15, just two days after the conclusion of the ongoing Indian Super League season. Before that though, Stimac is looking to have a camp in Goa for the players who will not play in the ISL playoffs.
“I wanted to see many new players, particularly youngsters who have impressed this season. This is by far the best ISL season and shows the quality of young players we have. We need to work harder to open spaces for them,” said Stimac.
It is said that Stimac will name the 28 probables and eight reserves for the friendlies in Dubai.