A new coach will take charge of the Indian team for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers in September, but national senior side head coach Igor Stimac will be at the helm during the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzou, China, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) said.
It must be mentioned that football is an U-23 event at the Asian Games and hence after the quadrennial extravaganza, Stimac will have to focus on senior team’s preparation in the lead up to the Asian Cup next year.
India U-23 is clubbed with Maldives, UAE and hosts China for the September 6-12 qualifying round games in Dalian.
The dates of this tournament clash with the Kings Cup in Thailand -- September 7-10 -- in which the senior national team under Stimac will take part.
“Stimac will not be available for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers as there is Kings Cup in Thailand. So we are appointing a new U-23 team coach who will also assist Stimac during the Asian Games. He will be an Indian,” AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran told PTI.
Stimac was at the helm of affairs of the U-23 team during the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. The team had finished second in its group and failed to make it to the main tournament.
After the Kings Cup, Stimac will travel to Hangzhou, China for the September 23 to October 8 Asian Games as the country is set to return in the continental multi-sport showpiece after missing out in 2018. Since 2002, football in Asian Games has been an U-23 affair with three players above that age are also permitted in a team.
Many of the players in the current senior national team under Stimac are below 23 and Stimac can field them in the Asian Games.
“There is no other international tournament for the senior side during the Asian Games, so Stimac will be at the helm of the Indian team in Hangzhou,” Prabhakaran said.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had refused to clear the national team for the 2018 Asian Games on the ground that it was not ranked in the top-8 in the continent. But this time, India is taking part in the Asian Games.
Prabhakaran also said that the budget of the AIFF allotted by the government has also doubled this year as compared to the last. He had earlier complained that the AIFF budget was too low -- less than Rs 100 crore -- and it should be increased manifold.
“What we have got from the government as budget till October this year is more compared to what was earmarked during the last financial year. budget this time is almost double compared to last year. So, it’s a better scenario for us.” Even with the increased allocation of funds from the government, the national team budget -- which was just Rs 4-5 crore last year -- is still a meagre amount.
But, Prabhakaran said the AIFF has been trying to give more international matches to the national team, which will have a busy schedule ahead of next year’s AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.
Starting with the ongoing Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, the senior national team will play in the SAFF Cup in Bengaluru (June 21 to July 4), Kings Cup (September) Merdeka Cup (October) and 2026 World Cup qualifying round matches (November-December).
“We are working our best with whatever we have. If we don’t focus on national teams, we are not doing the right thing. We are not going to cut budget from the national team,” Prabhakaran said.
“We will work through collaboration. In a strategic way, somebody else can cover a lot of cost. That is the model we have put now, somewhere we are successful in that approach. Playing 18 to 20 games in a season is unheard of in AIFF history.” He also talked abut the AIFF’s strong focus on the national U-17 team which is competing in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup in Thailand from June 17.
“Our U-17 team has played so many competitive games, which the team could not play even prior to the 2017 FIFA U-17 Wold Cup which India hosted. We are confident that these players will do something big at the AFC U-17 Asian Championships.
“We have gone out of the way. We don’t have that budget as compared to the incredible budget in 2017 but we have given that level of exposure, sending the team to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Uzbekistan, Spain and Germany for exposure tours.
“We sent the team 14 days in advance to Thailand for acclimatisation.” The AIFF is hoping that the team can qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held in November by finishing as one of the four top teams at the AFC U-17 Asian Cup.
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