Defending Asian champion Qatar was held to a goalless draw in a FIFA World Cup (WC) Qualifier match by a weakened Indian side without its captain and record goal-scorer Sunil Chhetri and the players in unison credited the result to head coach Igor Stimac.
Stimac, who coached Croatia to qualify for the 2014 FIFA WC in Brazil, took charge of the India national football team in May 2019. As a player, the Croatian was part of his country's golden generation which finished third in the 1998 WC in France.
Indian forward Mandar Rao Desai praised Stimac for bringing back the "positive vibes" in the dressing room, thereby making a “great difference.”
"The coach did a lot of research on the opponents and gave us a lot of short videos to watch, and prepare. We watched them perhaps a million times,” said Mandar. “At every step, he was there to guide us.”
"After the Oman result, it was not easy to play against Qatar. However, coach motivated us all the time. He brought in a lot of positivity which was so crucial as everyone was low on morale,” he added. “That’s what good coaches are capable of – lifting up the spirits with their belief, and confidence."
Sahal Abdul Samad, the AIFF men’s Emerging Footballer of the 2018-19 season, who was omnipresent in the midfield, spoke about how team effort led to the end result.
“This is quite unbelievable and we played as a team,” said Sahal. "All the boys are really happy for the coach. He has brought in a lot of changes to our game. We understand we have to do more, and we will surely do more.”
"We defended well in the first half. That was important as we were facing the best team in Asia. At the interval, the coach told us to come out and attack, and enjoy our football. That motivated us further. We played it around, and stretched them while maintaining our shape all throughout,” the 22-year-old explained.
Anirudh Thapa considered the result as the “most memorable moment for him in his career in an Indian jersey.”
"This has to rank at the top. Qatar is an extraordinary side and this was a qualifier match as well which makes the result even sweeter for us. I'm glad that we could come here to their home and return with points," he said.
“The coach has changed everything – things we do on and off the pitch. We are all so happy for him. I am happy we were able to make him proud with our performance. He guided, and helped us to achieve this,” the midfielder concluded.
Centre-back Adil Khan, who led by example could not hide his emotions while looking back at the match.
"Playing a team as strong as Qatar who have won all their matches against Asian sides in 2019, and not conceding a goal is special. The credit for the result goes to the entire team,” Adil said.
"Stimac is building a good team. We are making good progress under him. I hope more and more fans start believing in him after this performance. I can't control my emotions. I am getting goosebumps even thinking of the result. The self-belief in the team defines everything. I was in the national team some seven years back, but it is a different set-up now,” added the 31-year-old defender.