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'We must stick to the right strategies and play as a unit', says Chhetri ahead of Round of 16 clash with Saudi

New Delhi, Sep 27 (IANS) On the eve of India’s Round of 16 clash with Saudi Arabia in the Asian Games, Sunil Chhetri, the skipper of the national football team, said on Wednesday that he is aware of the problems the team is facing during its ongoing campaign in Hangzhou, China.

He is also conscious of India’s dismal track record against Saudi Arabia and the present strength of the West Asian side.

However, it could hardly deter him from keeping his focus on the Round of 16 clash to be played at the Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium on Thursday.

The skipper believes that if India can stick to the right strategies and if his young teammates continue to play as a cohesive unit as they did in the three earlier outings, the pre-quarterfinal battle could be a tantalising one.

“We were shown a lot of clips from the Saudi games by our coach (Igor Stimac), not only the ones that they played here, but also a few of their matches from the recent past. He spoke about different ways in which we should go out and apply ourselves. On the face value, they are a very good side with a lot of good players,” Chhetri said.

Saudi Arabia, the fifth-largest country in Asia and ranked 57 in FIFA rankings, have always had an upper hand against India, ranked 102, having scored 18 goals in five encounters while India could manage only two.

The last meeting between the two teams in the Asian Games ended in a solitary goal victory for Saudi Arabia in the quarterfinal of 1982 Asiad in Delhi.

Chhetri emphasised the significance of working together as a cohesive unit, highlighting the importance of unity and solidarity within the team.

“And that is why the emphasis from the coach is very simple: We go into the match as a unit and avoid situations where they get one versus one; that’s one of the major tactics. We saw a lot of clippings, a lot of formations, and different things that the coach wants to try. He also has one more day to see how the boys recover after playing three games in five days,” Chhetri said.

“The experience has been quite difficult so far. But now that we have qualified (for the Round of 16), it’s also fruitful. But I must admit it, it wasn’t easy the way it was… but what’s done is done and now we’re just looking forward with all our focus and concentration on the Saudi game.”

The squad features many young talents, and Chhetri expressed confidence in their potential, saying, “There are many youngsters in the squad who probably did not have the taste of this kind of tournament atmosphere. But what is also good is that everyone has given their best till now.

“I think a lot of us, especially the youngsters lacking in experience, are matching with our enthusiasm and the zeal to do well for the nation. And it’s not easy, especially when you are a youngster, but all of them are first improving and want to give everything they have got,” added Chhetri.

Coach Igor Stimac, however, stays undaunted by the challenge.

“Yes, this is one of my biggest challenges as the India head coach so far. But I love challenges, I love to face them… I never shy away from them. And it will be no different on Thursday. Few players are suffering from cold and one from an upset stomach. But there are no injuries for tomorrow,”Stimac said.

He also expressed confidence in the Blue Tigers’ ability to surprise Saudi Arabia.

“Whatever our track record may be against Saudi Arabia, we are capable of springing surprises,” said the coach.

“I had a meeting with the players and chalked out certain strategies for the Saudi Arabia match. Saudi are a brilliant side and they are playing with a lot of confidence. They have great individual skills with a lot of talent in them,” he added.

“Our main problem is lack of possibilities with regard to our players’ natural positions in the game. We are preparing to go out and fight,” Stimac said.



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