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Indian football, Asian Games 2023: India looks to fight as a unit against heavyweight Saudi Arabia in Hangzhou

The Indian men’s national football team, led by Sunil Chhetri, will go all guns blazing against Saudi Arabia, in the round of 16 match of the 19th Asian Games at the Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium in Hangzhou on Thursday.

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

This is one of my biggest challenges as the India head coach so far. But I love challenges, I love to face them, and I never shy away from them. It will be no different on Thursday,” India’s head coach Igor Stimac said.

“A few players are suffering from a cold and one from an upset stomach. There are no injuries for tomorrow.”

The last meeting between the two teams in the Asian Games ended in a solitary-goal victory for Saudi Arabia in the 1982 quarterfinals in New Delhi.

“Whatever our track record may be against Saudi Arabia, we are capable of springing surprises,” Stimac added, “I had a meeting with the players and chalked out certain strategies for the Saudi Arabia match. Saudi is a brilliant side and is playing with lots of confidence. They have great individual skills with a lot of talent in them.”

In Hangzhou, India played three matches, losing against China (1-5), winning against Bangladesh (1-0), and settling for a draw against Myanmar (1-1).

These four points earned it a spot in the round of 16, setting the stage for the eagerly anticipated showdown tomorrow against Saudi Arabia. Saudi, on the other hand, won two matches and drew with Iran in Group B.

The team’s success, despite facing a few problems, can be attributed to India’s meticulous strategies and dedication to their collective goal. Chhetri emphasised the significance of working together as a cohesive unit, highlighting the importance of unity and solidarity within the team.

The emphasis from the coach is very simple: we go in as a unit and avoid situations where they get one versus one; that’s one of the major tactics,” Chhetri said.

“We saw a lot of clippings, a lot of formation, and different things that the coach wants to try. He also has one more day to see how the boys have recovered from three games in five days.”

The Indian team had its first training session only after its second match in the tournament, following a win over Bangladesh. With a squad assembled a day before leaving for Hangzhou, the team has overwhelmed expectations, progressing into the knockouts after 13 years.

“We are preparing to go out and fight against the rival camp. We are going to leave everything on the pitch. We are going to fight it hard,” Stimac said.

The match, which kicks off at 5 pm IST, will be telecast live on Sony Sports Network and streamed live on Sony LIV.

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