When Igor Stimac took over the reins of Indian football team from Stephen Constantine, expectations were high from the former Croatia defender. However, the defense turned out to be the main issue for him in the early days as he started his tenure with a 1-3 loss against Curacao followed by two heavy defeats at the hands of Tajikistan and North Korea.
With the exception of two matches which included a sensational draw against Asian champions Qatar, India conceded in all the other matches under the tutelage of Stimac and the problem is further worsened by the absence of Sandesh Jhingan ahead of their FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Afghanistan in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Oman in Muscat five days later.
However, according to Jhingan’s defensive partner Adil Khan, the major defensive lapses are a thing of the past. The FC Pune City defender believes that the team were in the middle of a learning process under Stimac and the result against Qatar is a clear sign of their progress.
“In the beginning, coach gave chances to a lot of people to see how they performed. During his early days, we conceded a lot of goals because we were in the middle of a learning process. We were still understanding his process. But, if you see our performance against Qatar, we did not concede and that is clearly progress. Against Bangladesh, we conceded because of an individual error which we could have avoided but we have adapted to the system and you will see a better show in the future,” Adil told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
Jhingan, who suffered an injury during India’s practice match against NorthEast United, is likely to miss the 2019-20 Indian Super League season due to a knee injury and it came as a major setback to the national team. The 26-year-old ruptured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and Adil was quick to point out that it is his responsibility to fill his partner’s boots.
“The injury is a huge blow for us because he was controlling the entire defense as a leader. In his absence, the responsibility will be on me and I will have to do what he was doing for the team. I will try to fill his boots and hopefully, it will work out for the team,” he explained.
Under Stimac, the defensive line has seen a lot of changes in the recent past with young talent Narender Gahlot making his debut and veteran Anas Edathodika coming out of retirement. However, the results are yet to be seen as India have conceded 16 goals till now in the eight matches they played under Stimac. While the team is still adapting to Stimac’s strategies, Adil sounded quite pleased with how the coach has handled him and his defensive partners.
“The coach himself has played as a defensive midfielder and also as a centre half. So he knows how to get the best out of me, Jhingan, Anas and other players in those positions. He is clear in his instructions and he wants to play centre half as he believes that is the best position for me.”
The matches against Afghanistan and Oman will be held within five days of each other with a considerable amount of travel involved for the team. Adil, who scored the last-gasp equaliser against Bangladesh in their previous encounter, admitted that the matches will be quite challenging and he quickly added that it is their job to adapt to the conditions quickly.
“The fixtures are quite challenging. Losing points against Bangladesh was not a good thing and we need to cover the points that we lost. We are professional players and although there is very little time between the two games, we will have to adapt quickly to the situation.”