With less than a week to go for India's first match in the World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers against Qatar, coach Igor Stimac on Friday advocated the importance of making up for lost time on the training ground.
Due to the prolonged lockdown in the country, India players have got little foreign exposure in one-and-a-half years, with the friendlies against Oman and the UAE in Dubai in March being the only international outings.
The Sunil Chhetri-captained India now play Asian champions Qatar (June 3), Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15) in the combined qualifying tournament in Doha.
"Our initial plan was to start the camp from mid-April. When that was not possible, we tried to start on May 2 in Kolkata. We also had plans to play a few friendlies. But then the pandemic struck, and everything was cancelled -- due to nobody's fault, of course," said Stimac.
"We have been able to arrange a few days of the camp finally in Doha. It's not ideal, but it is what it is, and we must get on with making up for the lost time."
The India team landed in Doha on May 19 and commenced training on May 23 following an all clear from the UAE authorities.
With Qatar leading Group E, followed by Oman, securing a top spot is out of question for India.
"I am very confident that at the end of the journey, we will be in the AFC Asian Cup 2023. Never mind the group position right now, because the actual situation is far from the present," said Stimac.
"Qatar is a fully prepared team, Bangladesh finished their season on May 10, and 23 out of the 28 Afghan players are playing in Europe or USA with their season in full swing," he said.
"Our team's situation is different, but I can promise you that we will give it everything. The boys will give each atom of energy in their bodies to answer all doubts on the pitch. We will do everything to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023. Only then, will our proper work start.