INDIAN FOOTBALL

Explained: Why Is 2023 a Big Year for the Blue Tigers?

Football Express India

The Blue Tigers have so far won all of the contests that they could in 2023. Currently dominating international football is Sunil Chhetri and company. And there are still plenty of significant events like the Asian Games 2023 scheduled before the squad departs for Qatar for the AFC Asian Cup 2024 in January.

The next competitions would provide head coach Igor Stimac insight on the type of players he would be aiming to send to the major event in Qatar. This year is unquestionably an important year for the Indian football team.

BLUE TIGERS ARE UNSTOPPABLE IN 2023

India is now undefeated in 11 games and has won all three of its domestic competitions. Including the coveted SAFF Championship and the Tri-Nation Series.

Although they haven’t played against the greatest teams, the players have been incredibly swift on attack, put together brilliant passes, and very tough in defence. Although Sunil Chhetri has undoubtedly been the team’s top scorer, these three factors have contributed to its success. Kuwait was the toughest opposition India faced. This same team destroyed Chhetri & Co. 9-1 in 2010, and they have now been halted twice by a very tight Indian team, with both games finishing in draws during regulation. Stimac’s early years were below average in terms of the club’s performance, but ultimately, after trusting the process, he has been able to assemble a cohesive team. The 55-year-old has always been assured and composed while expressing his opinions, and given the manner he has suddenly become involved with India and the fans, we can only hope for the best.

New ISL players who have all had successful few seasons in the top tier league have been put to the test by Stimac, and their performance in their first overseas tour has also been successful. Naorem Mahesh Singh and Nandhakumar Sekar of East Bengal have shown to be a threat to the defence from the wings. Particularly, Naorem’s work has been outstanding. He has demonstrated his effectiveness as a goal-feeder by providing both an assist and a goal.

2023 ASIAN GAMES

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Starting on September 23, the Asian Games will feature primarily under-23 athletes competing. There will be senior players from Chhetri, Jhingan, and Gurpreet, who are grouped with China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. But for newcomers Lalchungnunga, Sivasakthi Narayanan, and Rohit Danu, a few bright names in Indian football, the Games will serve as an ideal Asian Cup test.

Thailand’s Kings Cup

Thailand will host the Kings’ Cup in early September. India will once more compete against nations like Iraq and Lebanon in this match, in addition to the hosts. The performance of India versus Iraq and Thailand, who will also be playing in the Asian Cup the following year, will provide a little taste of how India will progress and what challenges the top teams will provide.

MERDEKA CUP

In October, India will compete in the Merdeka Tournament for the first time in 22 years. The Tigers have a long tradition in this tournament. Despite twice competing in the championship game, they have never prevailed. Stimac is aware of this and will undoubtedly be looking forward to it. They will compete against Lebanon, Malaysia, and Palestine, another AFC Asian Cup squad, in this tournament. Additionally, this match will shed light on Palestine’s capabilities because they are ranked higher than India. The Merdeka will also serve as the ideal warm-up competition because Malaysia will be competing in the AFC Asian Cup this season.

FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for 2026

Two FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers for the Blue Tigers will conclude the season in November. They are placed in Group A together with Kuwait, the 2019 AFC Asian Cup champions, and either Afghanistan or Mongolia in the opening round.

India has prior experience with these opponents, and who can forget the memorable 0-0 tie they had with Qatar in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying round? One of the best examples of Indian tenacity came in that situation. Can they do it again against a side that competed in the World Cup last year, though? That much is obvious: the answer is challenging. They could manage a draw with their defensive performance, though, provided they repeat their heroics from 2019. You are unable to compete with a giant until you score. In games like these, India will need to find its solutions. In September, India will face its true test. No of the outcome, playing against such good teams would undoubtedly mentally prepare them.

In the Asian Cup, the Blue Tigers will compete against Syria, Uzbekistan, and a formidable Australian team. All of these teams are top-notch, therefore India must be able to pick up the pace. Igor Stimac has done well so far by scheduling lengthy national camps and games against select high-caliber opposition. He emphasised the importance of having lengthy camps, and the strategy has paid off thus far.

The Indian squad is brimming with confidence, and the graph should continue to rise. In order to perform at their peak throughout the Asian Cup, they must maintain the momentum.

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