Two all-round performances by the Blue Tigers rounded off a successful March FIFA International Window for Sunil Chhetri and his men, as they lifted the Tri-Nation International Football Tournament trophy at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Tuesday, March 28.
Not only did India win both their matches against a never-say-die Myanmar (1-0) and a higher-ranked Kyrgyz Republic (2-0), but they also kept two clean sheets. Watched by a capacity crowd of almost 30,000 each on both days, the dominance Igor Stimac’s wards displayed came as a pleasant surprise for the Indian fans.
India captain Sunil Chhetri said, “It felt good to play these two matches, and it was important for us to get the two wins under our belt. It’s the first time I played in Manipur, so that was an extremely special occasion.
“We also kept two clean sheets, which was very important for our defence,” said Sunil, who struck his 85th goal in international football from a well taken spot-kick against the Kyrgyz Republic. His tally would definitely have been bigger but for a couple of close shaves the Myanmar goal had in the first outing.
Head coach Igor Stimac, despite the pressure of winning the tournament, never lost focus of having a look at as many players as possible, keeping the ultimate challenge of the AFC Asian Cup in January, 2024 in mind, played almost two different sides in the two matches, making as many as six changes to the starting XI, which also consisted of two completely different back-lines. Both of India’s first and second choice goalkeepers, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh kept a clean sheet each, jointly bagging the Best Goalkeeper of the Championship award.
As many as four new players – Mehtab Singh, Naorem Mahesh, Ritwik Kumar Das, and Rohit Kumar – got their respective debuts in the two matches against Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic at the Khuman Lampak.
Head coach Igor Stimac believes that the results that the boys managed to get in Imphal helped build a positive attitude within the team.
“I am very happy with the team and the boys. They played with a brilliant attitude and the overall environment was also very positive. It’s the result that creates this positivity for us,” he said.
Stimac also thanked Manipur for being the gracious hosts of the National Team. “We are grateful to the organisers in Manipur, the Government, the honourable Chief Minister (Shri N Biren Singh), the organisers, and all the fans for providing the atmosphere,” he said.
“This was our fifth consecutive win at home, and that’s very important for us to build confidence,” he said. “We were very stable and disciplined and did not allow Myanmar or Kyrgyz Republic any greater opportunities apart from a couple of minutes in the second half, where we were a bit soft. We could have done better in those areas, but the boys are always improving.”