Food kept at the door, stuck in their rooms: Stimac irked by ‘quarantine-free’ conditions in Qatar

While the Qatar Government waived off the 10-day hard quarantine on th AIFF's request, the Indian football team is forced to a life on the floor of its hotel, a banquet hall and the training ground.

Igor Stimac

Igor Stimac’s team-meetings have been restricted only to video calls from their rooms and on the training ground during the evenings, while the players could undergo strength training in two batches in the hotel's banquet hall. According to the Croatian, the team is set to enter into a bio-bubble only from May 30.   -  Special Arrangement

Igor Stimac, coach of the Indian men’s football team, expressed his frustrations over the nature of the team’s stay in Doha, Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, which resumes next month.

The Blue Tigers reached Doha on May 19 and were allowed to begin training two days later after recording negative results from their RT-PCR tests. While the Qatar Government waived off the 10-day hard quarantine on All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) request, the travelling contingent is forced to a life on the floor of its hotel, a banquet hall and the training ground.

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“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 is delivered to us at the door. We have tested negative thrice already. I don’t see the reason why are being kept in quarantine, why we don’t get a proper meeting hall so we can discuss and analyse our opponents, or why we can’t spend time together,” Stimac pointed out.

Stimac’s team-meetings have been restricted only to video calls from their rooms and on the training ground during the evenings, while the players could undergo strength training in two batches in the hotel's banquet hall. According to the Croatian, the team is set to enter into a bio-bubble only from May 30.

Not an ideal preparation

While the World Cup qualification out of reach, India could still advance to the Asian Cup qualifiers. Stimac's men are currently placed fourth in Group E, a point behind Afghanistan. However, the Covid-19 second wave in the country wreaked havoc to Stimac's preparation ahead of the final round of the qualifiers. A preparatory camp was supposed to begin on April 15 but was later moved to May 1 in Kolkata, which too was later called off.

"Qatar is a fully prepared team with its own camp since the end of the season in April. Bangladesh finished their season on May 10, and 23 out of the 28 Afghan players are playing in Europe and the USA with their season in full swing. We were supposed to play 4-5 friendly games but everything was cancelled due to no one’s fault.

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“I was happy that we were able to play the last three games [WC qualifiers] in Qatar and also because they have their great facilities. But if I knew everything will be the way it is today, then I will not have accepted. We could organise such games in such a way in India also. In the end, we lost the possibility of playing two home games [vs Qatar and Afghanistan]. These are not great conditions. This is far away from ideal preparation for the World Cup qualifiers.

“We were supposed to come here on May 30th and I am thankful to the Qatar government for allowing us to come here early but I didn’t expect such conditions. I am sure the Qatar team is not under similar conditions,” said Stimac.

Despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, Stimac said he was confident of ensuring qualification for the Asian Cup in 2023.

No experimentation in Dubai

After a string of debuts in the March friendlies against Oman (1-1) and the UAE (0-6 loss) in Dubai, Stimac has called on his trusted players, including Udanta Singh, Rahul Bheke and Narender Gahlot, for the qualifiers.

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Defending his selection, Stimac said, “We didn’t use Dubai to figure out the team. The team was figured far before. We had 10-11 players who are our first choice XI. We used the Dubai camp to check on the best performing ISL [Indian Super League] players and most of them are very young. We weren’t experimenting. We saw the answers. In the first game, they did pretty good against Oman. The second game was far away from good. That’s our reality. That’s the path we have chosen and that’s the only way to go forward,” said Stimac.

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