Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac said that he is not worried about his contract renewal and remains focused on guiding the team to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, a target that he is confident of meeting if given the opportunity.
Stimac has finished two years on his contract having joined in May 2019 and the All India Football Federation are set to give him a temporary extension till September, according to a report in PTI.
However, the Croatian who is in quarantine in Qatar along with the other members of the team ahead of the final three World Cup qualifiers, felt that the uncertainty surrounding his future has put no added pressure on him.
“I’m not thinking about my contract extension. I’m thinking about my job,” Stimac told reporters in a virtual interaction from Doha.
“It’s the technical committee’s call. In the last twelve months, we didn’t have any action because of the pandemic. The committee will have a look at our work before that, the situation we have been in and take a call,” he added.
India who are out of the reckoning for a place in the second stage of World Cup qualification that would have ensured a place in the Asian Cup will now have to play another qualifying tournament to make the cut for the 2023 continental championship.
The Blue Tigers need to finish in the top three in the ongoing World Cup qualifiers to ensure a direct entry into the Asian Cup Qualifiers. Failure to do so would mean they would have to go through a playoff round just to get there.
But the challenge is not fazing the Croatian coach.
“Wherever we finish after the World Cup qualifiers, I’m confident that we are going to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup,” Stimac said.
“We had a lot of problems against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in terms of preparation and injuries that all footballers face but if you see our the first two games against Oman and Qatar, we had good quality in performance. That was after we spent quality time in the camps. We haven’t had that for the rest of our matches. I think we should have that for the Asian Cup qualifiers and hence I’m confident,” he added.
The Blue Tigers have just one win under the Croatian who has been given the benefit of the doubt due to a tenure that has been largely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a 0-6 reverse in the last game against the United Arab Emirates albeit with a much-changed and young team has added the pressure on the 53-year-old.
The Croatian though was quick to defend India’s performances in the Dubai friendlies where he gave debuts to a host of new players.
“We didn’t use Dubai camp to figure out a team. The team was figured out long ago. We used Dubai camp to check best performers in ISL,” the Croatian said.
“We learned from Dubai that youngsters need time, and it is very different to play in ISL and international football. The first match was good where we drew against a team we had lost to recently but the second game was quite bad. But that’s where we are at at this moment,” he added.
India face Asian champions Qatar in their first qualifier after the pandemic and Stimac highlighted the stark contrast in the preparation of the two sides ahead of the clash.
“I followed Qatar as well as the clubs who have more than 90% national team players. I’m well aware of their strength. Their season finished in second week of April and they have been training in the national camp since in very good facilities. So it’s good for them,” he said.
“For us, it’s different. The season for most teams ended in February and even though we reached here early, we are in quarantine and haven’t even been able to use the gym. We are in our rooms where our food delivered to us at the door. This is not the ideal preparation for a World Cup qualifier but I’m sure every players will give his best,” he added.
The Blue Tigers are boosted by the return of captain Sunil Chhetri who missed the matches in Dubai due to Covid-19 infection. But Stimac is cautious about putting too much strain on him.
“Having Sunil back is great for everyone. But we have to be careful as we have three games in 12 days. So I will have to see where to best use Sunil Chhetri. The games against Bangladesh and Afghanistan are more important to us and I will plan the best way possible for him,” the 53-year-old said.
India play Qatar in Doha on June 3 before facing off against Bangladesh four days later on June 7. Their final game is against Afghanistan on June 15.
The Croatian has brought back a few experienced faces as Rahul Bheke, Subhashish Bose, Brandon Fernandes and Pronay Halder have made the squad for the World Cup qualifiers.
Even defeats in all three matches won’t put India out of contention for a place in the AFC Asian Cup, it will leave AIFF with a decision to make about the Croatian. So even though the results in the qualifiers may not have a huge impact on their Asian Cup hopes, it can go a long way in determining what the future holds for Igor Stimac.
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