The Indian men’s football team will be boarding the flight to Manama, Bahrain next month to play friendlies against Bahrain and Belarus on March 23 and March 26, respectively.
The games are part of the preparation of the Indian senior team’s campaign in the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 third round qualifiers, scheduled to be held in June 2022.
“Given the current circumstances, it was extremely difficult to find the kind of opponents we were looking for. But I am very happy that we have the two matches on our schedule,” head coach Igor Stimac said.
“We are doing our best to prepare well for the upcoming final qualifying round of the AFC Asian Cup China 2023, and these two matches will immensely facilitate our preparatory process,” he added.
“Both Bahrain and Belarus are ranked higher than us, and if all goes well with the ISL (Indian Super League) season with our boys putting in good performances, and playing competitive games we should be ready,” the coach said.
Bahrain are 91st in the FIFA rankings, while Belarus are 94th. India’s current ranking is 104.
The last time India played any UEFA Member Association was more than a decade ago in February 2012 against Azerbaijan, a match which the rivals won 3-0.
“Playing against better teams is the best way to improve our own game, as that allows the boys the chance to mature playing against, and with better speed. Our youngsters need more exposure and time to play, and practice. Sometimes results may suffer, but if we follow the path, we will have a better future soon.”
The Belarus contingent consists of many international players who ply their trade in the Russian Premier League (three players), and also the first league (three players), while a few more are also contracted with clubs in Hungary, Czech Republic and Cyprus.
Stimac, who coached Croatia to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 also underlined the importance of taking “necessary precautions, and staying safe”.
“We need to keep planning, and working as everything is fine and normal. But at the same time, we need to take precautions to keep as safe as possible in our endeavour to avoid unpleasant situations,” he added.