The Indian men’s football team head coach Igor Stimac is said to have consulted an astrologer to make team selections for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualification matches in June 2022, according to a report.

India had to win a mini-tournament featuring Afghanistan, Cambodia and Hong Kong in order to secure qualification for the Asian Cup – the prime continental competition among Asian men’s national teams. The matches were scheduled to take place in Kolkata in June 2022, which is when the astrologer was hired by the All India Football Federation to assist the coach.

In a report by The Indian Express, Stimac allegedly contacted astrologer Bhupesh Sharma and passed on personal information of players – such as date of birth and fitness test results – in order for Sharma to predict how those players will perform. Accordingly, Stimac altered the team lineup for the matches.

Former secretary general of the national federation Kushal Das reportedly introduced Stimac to Sharma.

“That time, I was worried if India would qualify for the Asian Cup and so was Igor,” Das was quoted by The Indian Express. “It was not a comfortable situation. For me, the most important thing was that India should qualify. So I told him [Sharma] that I will put you in touch with the coach and if he likes it, he thinks your services can be utilised, he can get back to me. Igor was very convinced and they were in Kolkata throughout.”

According to a PTI report from June 2022, the astrologer had also held three sessions with the players.

India went on to win all three matches, beating Cambodia 2-0, Afghanistan 2-1, and Hong Kong 4-0 to secure a spot at the Asian Cup.

For his services, Sharma was paid “Rs 12-15 lakhs,” Das said. “That didn’t seem a huge amoung since India qualified for the Asian Cup.”

Stimac, a former Croatian international player, is currently embroiled in a tussle with Indian Super League clubs over players. The Indian team is scheduled to compete at the Asian Games, where the football event starts on September 19.

However, with the ISL – the top-tier men’s club football league in the country – scheduled to begin on September 21, clubs have not been keen on releasing players to the national team.

Additionally, it was reported that the national football body did not book return tickets for the players, who had been playing at the King’s Cup in Thailand.