Igor Stimac – I’m convinced that we’ll qualify for the AFC Asian Cup

Igor Stimac
Igor Stimac

The Indian national team will play the joint World Cup Qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers on the 3rd, 7th, and 15th of June against Qatar, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The head coach of the national team, Igor Stimac, addressed the media on a candid talk session arranged by the AIFF. The part that follows transcribes the said meet.

Igor Stimac on the pandemic affecting the camp

“Our initial plan was to start the camp on the 15th of April. When that turned out to be impossible, we moved the date to the 1st of May, to Kolkata. The plan was to play four to five friendly games with some of the local team or other national teams. Due to the pandemic, which is nobody’s fault, everything was cancelled.”

“In the end, we were happy to know that the last three games will be organised and played in Doha, Qatar. They have excellent facilities; they are the future host of the World Cup. But if I had known back then that we would be in a situation like the current one, I’d have not accepted it because we could have arranged the same in India. In the end, we lost the possibility of playing two home games. Anyway, here we are now, not in great conditions – far away from a proper preparation for World Cup Qualifiers. But it is what it is.”

“I expected a lot more from these organisations, but I also have to thank them for letting us come in early. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to the gyms and many other facilities at the moment; we train together inside the quarantine. We don’t even have halls inside here to provide proper morning sessions. And I’m sure it’s not the same with Qatar. As simple as that.”

Igor Stimac on the gap between the league matches and the World Cup Qualifiers

“Seven ISL clubs finished their campaign at the end of February; only four clubs played in the semi-finals and two in the finals in March. After that, we took the best performers from ISL to Dubai for a short camp, including two friendly games with very strong sides. The aim was to give them a chance at the international level and see how they perform.”

“Right now, in the camp, we have a minimal number of players in decent conditions to play all three games within twelve days; they are mainly from FC Goa and Bengaluru FC. Spending ten days here before playing three crucial games is not enough to put forth a brand of football that everyone is expecting. We can only be patient now, accept the situation, and use as much time as possible in the evening session. It’s not easy.”

Igor Stimac - I'm convinced that we'll qualify for the AFC Asian Cup Igor Stimac

Igor Stimac on their brief stint at Dubai

“We did not use the Dubai camp to figure out the team. The team has been figured long back, more or less. We have eleven players here as the first choice for India. We used the Dubai camp to give the best performers from ISL a chance to perform at the international level and see how well they do.”

“Most of them are young, and they never had a chance to perform against teams like Oman. Dubai camp was not an experiment. They did pretty well in the first game against Oman, but the second game was far from good. It’s what we chose to do, and it is the only way to move forward.”

Igor Stimac on his contract expiration

“Right now, I’m not thinking about my extension. I’m entirely concentrated on the job I need to do. Everyone knows about my contract, but the decision to make lies upon AIFF and the technical committee.”

“We did not have any action in the last few months, so I now must provide myself and commit myself to the All India Football Federation. The technical committee will check upon the efforts that we’re making and our quality of work; the players are firsthand witness of the quality of work. They know how much they have advanced. The problem is simple; we haven’t had much chance to work together and advance in football.”

Igor Stimac on AFC Asian Cup

“I’m convinced that we’re going to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup regardless of the position we’re in now. No matter which position we’re in the group, I’m sure we’ll qualify for the AFC Asian Cup. And then, we will have enough time to work together and make everyone in India happy with the quality of our game. We will provide a great brand of football in the AFC Asian Cup. And then we can judge on what we’ve been working on all these years.”

“Having Sunil Chhetri back is great for everyone in the team. But as I speak with Sunil every day, we need to be clever here. We have three games in twelve days, so I need to decide when will the best time be to use Sunil Chhetri. Obviously, for us, the most critical games here are against Afghanistan and Bangladesh. After the training sessions, I’ll have a clearer picture of the players’ fitness, and then I’ll decide upon the team.”

Igor Stimac - I'm convinced that we'll qualify for the AFC Asian Cup Sunil Chhetri 1

“Qatar and Bangladesh will be much better prepared. Most of the players of Afghanistan play in Europe and the US. And everyone knows the situation of our team. But I can assure you that our team will give everything possible on the pitch, and we will get the answer on the pitch as to what our players are capable of at this stage.”

Igor Stimac on Qatari Football

“I’m well aware of their (Qatar) strength and form. I have been following their league teams from which most of their national players emerged. They finished their domestic league on the 10th of May, and since then, they have been preparing for this. We know it is not going to be an easy game. We have not gotten any action for a long time. We don’t have access to the gyms or the meeting hall; we’ve been put in quarantine. I’m sure they will be much better prepared. But everyone in our team will give their best on the pitch over the entire course of the games. They will do everything in their knowledge and capability to get as many points as possible.”

Igor Stimac on the youngsters in the team, and Udanta Singh

“Most of the youngsters who are here with us are here precisely for one reason; to get exposed to international matches and to know how competitive they are. So, I’m not sure if I will use any of them for these three matches because we need experienced players, players who understand the situation, and players who can handle them. So, it might turn out that none of these young players gets a chance to play. But they are here with us and gaining experience and learning from our work. They understand what I’m expecting from them on the pitch; that is important for them.”

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“Udanta Singh is paying the price for how he’s been performing in the past seasons of the ISL. We’re all aware that he hasn’t been in the form that he’s expected to be. But once the club changed the coach, he was played in his natural forward position. I know his abilities; he is one of the main strikers. He’s got enough strength, enough speed, and enough character to provide me with what I’m expecting from him. He’s earned his position to be with us because he proved that he could play well against one of the best full-backs in Asia; he (Udanta) nearly destroyed that player in that game. I’m ready to provide everything possible to bring back Udanta to his best form.”

Igor Stimac on having to motivate the players during these challenging times

“It’s not a problem at all. Our players are good professionals, and they are great. They are well aware of the situation, and hence they don’t need any extra motivation. They know they have to work really hard. They are fully committed and will do the best for the country; in the best possible manner.”

Igor Stimac on Glan Martins

“I have been following Glan since his time in Churchill Brothers. Since then, I have been observing his aggression and courage on the pitch. That is something our team needs at the moment. I’m glad that Glan is here with us and can learn our process and get exposed to international football.”

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