By Soumo Ghosh
DOHA, QATAR: The toughest game in Group B of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 against Australia may be done and dusted, but the Blue Tigers face another difficult hike in the form of Uzbekistan in their second match of the competition at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Doha, on Thursday, January 18, 2024.
India currently occupy the bottom spot in the group after a 0-2 loss at the hands of Socceroos, while Syria and Uzbekistan are second and third, respectively, after they played out a stalemate at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium last week. The race for the top three spots, however, remains wide open in Group B.
Blue Tigers head coach Igor Stimac said, on the eve of their game against Uzbekistan, “It is a huge match for us. The first game was an experience for the boys, and now we face another difficult match. Uzbekistan are a very competitive side, and since they did not gain a victory in their last game, we expect them to put a lot of pressure on us.
“But our boys are ready for the challenge. We are happy for this opportunity that lies ahead of us, and our mentality will be to win the game and get three points,” said Stimac.
The top two teams from each group, along with the four best third-placed teams from the six groups, will book a spot in the Round of 16, which leaves the doors for qualification wide open ahead of Matchday 2.
While India (ranked 102) gave a good account of themselves against a higher-ranked Australian side (ranked 25), Stimac left the door open for changes to the starting XI.
“We do have a couple of players with some issues after the Australia game, so we will see what team we will go with against Uzbekistan,” said Stimac. “Uzbekistan dominated Syria with 65 percent possession in their last game and had many shots on goal, but Syria are also a physical side and played a 4-4-2 formation with strong counterattacks. But this game will be different.”
The India head coach went on to outline the importance of having a transitional outlet while defending in clutch situations.
“What we are looking for are more attack-minded players. We also saw against Australia that instead of just clearing the ball, we could find the flanks. We did that in the first half, but there was no intent to do the same in the second,” said Stimac. “If that happens, they will keep coming and you keep getting tired.”
India custodian Amrinder Singh, who last featured in the World Cup Qualifier against Qatar, said, “It’s a big game for us tomorrow, and we are looking forward to it. We have studied what Uzbekistan did in the game against Syria, prepared our own strategies, and are ready for the game.”
The gloveman, who is always in competition for the number one shirt with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, feels that they feed off the competition between each other to remain at the top level.
“Of course, there can only be one spot, but Gurpreet and I share a healthy competition, which motivates both of us to keep improving,” said Amrinder.
India’s game against Uzbekistan will kick off at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, at 8 p.m. IST and will be broadcast live on Sports 18 and streamed live on Jio Cinema.