New Delhi, April 2
Indian football team coach Igor Stimac has come in for some stern interrogation — indirect, through the media — in recent days after the 6-0 hammering by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
India have won only one of 12 matches since he took charge, and the huge loss UAE has raised questions over how much has he been able to mentor the young players; and, specifically, whether he’s close to finalising his first-choice squad, 22 months after he took over.
Stimac has, however, explained the reason behind the severity of the loss to UAE by saying that in this match, the strength of the “new players” was being gauged. The 6-0 defeat to UAE is being compared to the less-severe 2-0 defeat to the same team in January 2019 in the AFC Asian Cup, before Stimac took over — the suggestion is that the team has regressed since then.
Stimac has said the two results are not comparable.
“In 2019, both the teams played in the group stages of the AFC Asian Cup… to which both teams had headed after having prepared for a long time. Both the teams came in with their best and most experienced players,” Stimac said.
“In 2021, it was a friendly match which we used to check the strength of our new players against the best striking line-up of UAE that has been playing together for a long time,” he added. “It is unusual and surprising that many are now trying to create a bad atmosphere around us.”
Though India have recorded only one win under Stimac, there have been some other positive results — the recent 1-1 draw with Oman, or the 0-0 draw with Qatar in September 2019. However, India have failed to beat teams such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan, drawing their regional qualifying matches for the 2020 World Cup with them.
However, Stimac said Indians expect too much against these two teams, even though Afghanistan are ranked 150 and Bangladesh 186 against India’s 104.
“Sometimes I get the impression that we have too much opinion of ourselves when it comes to opponents like Afghanistan or Bangladesh,” Stimac said.
“Let me remind you that Afghanistan has allowed overseas citizen players to play for the national team. They now have 13 players coming from European leagues,” said Stimac. “They are competing in Germany, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden. They also have two players playing in Australian clubs, and one player in the USA top division. Bangladesh has introduced a 3+1 policy, and their league is extremely competitive too.”
The inclusion of OCI and PIO (Players of Indian Origin) has been a topic of debate since coach Stephen Constantine spoke about the need for India to include them in the national team. — TNS
Matches India have played after Igor Stimac took over as coach in May 2015
Wins for India in the 2020 World Cup qualifiers (Asian region), with draws against Qatar, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and a loss to Oman
Players debuted in Stimac’s first match as India coach, which India lost to Curacao at the King’s Cup in June 2019
Match India have won under Stimac, 1-0 win over Thailand in the King’s Cup in June 2019
In the 1-1 draw with Oman, 10 players made their India debut, and Igor Stimac continued the trend against UAE.
Stimac said he doesn’t like the word ‘experiment’ in his context, because that is not the apt word for his plans. “Experimenting is when you play players in positions they have never played or when you switch to a game system that you did not practice in training,” he said. “Personally, I don’t like the word experimentation and it doesn’t fit with what we do.”
“We didn’t bring a single player to Dubai who didn’t deserve it with his performances in the Indian Super League,” he added. “However, due to illness, injury or poor form we could not count on Rahul Bheke, Seriton Fernandes, Ashish Rai, Brandon Fernandes, Abdul Sahal, Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri.”