Bhubaneswar, Jun 10 (IANS): It was an untroubled 2-0 victory for India against Mongolia on the opening day of the Intercontinental Cup 2023 with head coach Igor Stimac claiming that his side ticked most of the boxes on a humid evening, here.
"We're overall happy with our performance. We did everything we sought today - a clean sheet and a victory. The boys enjoyed their time on the pitch, passing the ball, creating chances, and scoring goals. I feel a bit sorry that there were no more goals because there were enough chances to do that," said Stimac in the post-match press conference.
"Also, the Mongolian team defended well. They were good in the middle press but couldn't trouble us with the high press as we had magnificent midfielders like Apuia and Thapa, who are very confident on the ball. We knew we'll have the flanks open to create more crossing opportunities. That's what happened today, but it's a bit sad that we didn't get more goals," he added.
India are now on a six-game winning streak on home soil, a run stretching back to the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in Kolkata last June. The Blue Tigers have kept five clean sheets, scoring 13 goals and conceding just one, which has left Stimac pleased and wanting for more.
Winger Lallianzuala Chhangte, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Thursday, was adjudged the Hero of the Match against Mongolia. He found the net in the 14th minute, adding to Sahal Abdul Samad's early opener to double India's tally by pouncing on a loose ball and volleying it in from point-blank range.
Chhangte was glad to score his first goal for the Blue Tigers since the 2019 Hero Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad against DPR Korea, but also concluded that there's plenty of room for improvement. "We started really well, but were a bit sloppy at the start of the second half. However, we kept going for more goals until the end of 90 minutes. We could've done better, but tonight's win still gives us motivation for the next game. We will be back stronger in that one," he said.
Stimac couldn't contain his excitement about Chhangte, the Hero of the League of last season's ISL, replicating his strong form in national colours. The Croatian said, "He works so hard on a daily basis. You should make a movie about him as he's an inspiration for future generations, who are coming up and knocking on the door of the senior team. They should learn from him what it takes to be a professional.
"People see him on Sundays scoring for Mumbai City, but they don't see him the rest of six-and-a-half days working for that Sunday. We need to appreciate him, and I hope his run will continue," Stimac added.
Chhangte had a new partner on the right wing today as Nikhil Poojary, who returned to the Indian team after almost four years, teamed up with him at right-back. He spoke about their connection and was content with how things worked out on the flank for them.
"Today, we showed what we were capable of doing. The most important thing was that we did what we were trying to do on the training pitches, and what the coach asked us to do. That will be very important for us in the coming matches as well," said Chhangte.
Another player who delighted Stimac with a strong performance was Sahal Abdul Samad, and the Croatian admitted that the decision to hand him a start paid off. "With how we analysed our opponents Mongolia, we wanted a player like Sahal to start today as he is capable of finding gaps, turning, creating chances, and scoring goals. I'm so happy for him."
Looking forward to the upcoming games, Stimac said, "There are many more games to come this month. This is a good base to build up, and I hope our hard work will pay back. It's not easy to play in such heat and humidity, but our boys have no complaints. I'm so proud of them and hope they stay injury-free and continue to enjoy themselves on the pitch."