There’s a huge interest in the Blue Tigers among the tourists at the team hotel. The other day, an elderly Polish gentleman said, “I belong to the land of Boniek (Zbigniew) and Robert Lewandowski. But you have Sunil Chhetri. I have heard about him –79 International goals – wow,” he smiled. “Win the final. Good luck.”
The sentiment stays the same among the tourists from other countries – from Portugal, Russia, The Netherlands, the UK, USA, and others. “The Cup needs to come back to our hotel. We will be cheering for you guys.”
The Blue Tigers, however, understand the job is not yet done – there’s still a match left to be conquered – the SAFF Championship final against Nepal.
“We are not allowing complacency to step in. We are aware of what we need to do. There is a very tiny line between being confident and overconfident and I am keeping a close eye that we don’t cross that line,” head coach Igor Stimac stated.
“We are rising as a group, as a team and as a big family playing better football with every given day. We have to be patient, keep working hard and be confident. Nepal are a known opponent to us, as much we are to them. We take confidence in having won the last two matches. But I reiterate, we are not overconfident,” Stimac added.
The Blue Tigers had their practice session earlier today (October 15, 2021), and the to and fro travel was extremely turbulent – the Indian Ocean being extremely rough which led to some of the boys experiencing nausea.
The team news stays that three players have already been ruled out of the final – besides, Farukh Choudhury (ACL injury), Brandon Fernandes (quadriceps injury), and Subhashish Bose (suspended owing to a red card) are not available for selection.
Assistant Coach Shanmugam Venkatesh maintained that the boys need to “enjoy the final”.
“Nepal are an extremely competitive team, and the motivation of playing for both teams in a final is quite normal. We respect Nepal as a team. We have told our boys to enjoy the final,” Venkatesh, who won two SAFF Championships as a player, uttered.
“It gives us the satisfaction that there are some boys from the U-17 World Cup batch who are settling in fast into the Senior Team. The players realise the importance of the final and the character on display after the first two games have been exemplary. Youngsters like Lalengmawia, Suresh, Yasir have played a huge role on and off the pitch, while the seniors have gelled well with Sunil, Gurpreet, Kotal, Subhashish, and Bheke leading from the front to keep the flag flying high,” he expressed.
“We are ready to give our best in the final. We understand that it won’t be an easy match. We are a young team, and the coach wants to build up a team for the future. I am eager to play my part as much as the others,” Lalengmawia maintained.
“The medical staff needs to be lauded. Playing 5 matches in 13 days is tough on the players, and there is no way it would have been possible had not the medical staff worked incredibly hard to keep them fit,” Venkatesh explained.
Stimac informed that though Subhashish will be missed, he is working on an able replacement. “Subhashish will be missed for sure because he is a left-footed player. He was our sole option as a left central defender at this stage, but we are working to replace him,” the Head Coach informed.
The team captain indicated that the boys are working on the recovery process. “We didn’t start the manner we were expected to. To win a game that was a must-win for us amidst hostile conditions was really satisfying.”
But we know the work is not done yet. So we are working on the recovery process, trying to eat, sleep and rest well and step on the pitch and win a trophy.” The kick-off against Nepal on Saturday, October 16 is at 8.30pm IST and the match will be telecast live on Eurosport.