India football head coach Igor Stimac feels the national team cannot be expected to shine in tournaments like the Asian Cup until the best clubs of the country stop losing to sides from Bangladesh and Maldives.
In the report he submitted to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Stimac said the national team’s performance in the Asian Cup in Doha, where it suffered three losses, was “disappointing but not unexpected”.
“I’m truly realistic person ...and for now we should be happy and satisfied when continuously participating at the AFC Asian Cup. The reason for saying that is very simple and logical,” Stimac wrote in his report.
“...how to expect our NT (national team) to do well while our best ISL (Indian Super League) teams are losing heavily in AFC Champion League and suffering defeats in AFC Cup club competitions against teams from Bangladesh and Maldives?”
“Our best game was against Australia, which wasn’t (a) surprise because we prepared twice as long for that game as for the other two.”Igor Stimac on his assessment on Team India at the Asian Cup 2023
He also said that India was the only country among the 24 participants in the Asian Cup without a single player playing in a major football league in the world.
“How we can expect more from our boys if we had never in our history qualified for the Asian Cup in U18/U20/U23? If we are so much behind others in under age groups than qualifying with senior NT is already huge achievement,” the experienced Croatian coach said.
Stimac was also critical of the AIFF administration for not providing the available tools to strengthen the national team as other countries do.
“Apart from Australia, South Korea and Japan (most of their players are playing in best European leagues), all other participating teams had average time of 27 days for preparation for the AFC Asian Cup. We had only 13 days,” Stimac rued.
“We were the only team at the tournament without GPS equipment which made our job really difficult. Apart from that it affects the players when they see that basic training equipment is missing and we can’t measure training effectiveness or neither prevent certain injuries.”
He reiterated that the team was also weakened by the absence of Ashique Kuruniyan, Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali. Another key player, Sahal Abdul Samad, was available only for the last game against Syria.
“(They) were giving our team stability in all aspects of the game (physical, technical, tactical and mental). Not having them fully fit for such important tournament was irreplaceable loss.
“Most of Bengaluru and Mohun Bagan players joined us after having terrible spell with their respective clubs prior to the AFC Asian Cup. Thinking of replacing so many of them for the Asian Cup with other ISL players was never an option.”
After a gritty 0-2 defeat against Australia in the opening match, Stimac was hoping for a good show against Uzbekistan, but he was left disappointed with a 0-3 loss.
“Our best game was against Australia, which wasn’t (a) surprise because we prepared twice as long for that game as for the other two. The match against Uzbekistan was a big disappointment personally because I was expecting that good performance against Australia would boost our confidence and have more concrete effect on boys,” Stimac said.
“Instead of raising up in our game, we became vulnerable and let in cheap goals in a similar way to Qatar game. We knew that Uzbekistan is technically excellent team that mercilessly punishes mistakes,” he added.
“We did face the problem few days prior to this game with Sandesh Jinghan suffering from fever and not feeling (well) which obviously had impact on his game.” He said after the team conceded three first-half goals, he had to “choose the right words during the break in the locker room to avoid a real result disaster”.
Stimac regretted that there has not been any meeting between him and the AIFF top brass since India won the SAFF Championships in July last year in Bengaluru.
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