Indian football team may be out of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers after failing to win even one of their five matches but head coach Igor Stimac is confident that his team will be able to qualify for the AFC 2023 Asian Cup, according to a report by The Times of India.

Although the Blue Tigers lost their World Cup qualifier opener to Oman, they kept their chances alive for making it to Russia after holding Asian champions Qatar to a goalless draw away. But last-minute draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan followed by a narrow 1-0 away loss to Oman eventually put them out of contention. Stimac said that the lack of quality in the final third was the reason why they could not beat lesser-ranked sides such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

“I am very confident [about India qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup,” Stimac was quoted as saying.

“We have more quality than Bangladesh and Afghanistan, although we need to show that on the field for 90 minutes. We still haven’t found a way to fight with quality in the final third of the pitch. That was our main problem against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, even Oman when, for the first time, we had more ball possession and adopted a different approach to the game,” he added.

Stimac said he was aware that the team would suffer while losing key players such as Sandesh Jhingan, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Rowllin Borges during their World Cup qualifying campaign but asserted that India were a much stronger side than before.

“We are now a team which is very difficult to beat, a team which does not concede too many goals,” he said.

He added, “Whoever is there at the other end, it will be difficult to beat us. I am not saying it will not happen. It may. But it will also show our higher quality. Our next step of training in April and May is to work out in the final third and find a way when we are considered favourites, against teams ranked below us. We now have a winning mindset and that’s the biggest gain for me in the past few months of our work together. Not winning these games is part of the process.”

Stimac’s side will host Qatar in their next World Cup qualifying match on March 26.