India football coach Igor Stimac has said that opponents like Bangladesh and Afghanistan are stronger than what they are made to be due to their policy of allowing overseas citizens to play in their teams.
Stimac’s India had managed to hold free scoring Asian champions Qatar to a 1-1 draw in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers but went on to draw 1-1 with Bangladesh and Aghanistan before a 1-0 loss to Qatar put paid to their slender hopes of progressing in the qualifiers.
“Sometimes I get the impression that we have too much opinion of ourselves when it comes to opponents like Afghanistan or Bangladesh. Let me remind you that Afghanistan has allowed Overseas Citizen players to play for the National team. They now have 13 players coming from European leagues. They are competing in Germany, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden. They also have two players playing in Australian clubs, and one player in the USA top division. Bangladesh has introduced a 3 + 1 policy – and their league is extremely competitive too,” Stimac is quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) website.
Stimac also defended his decision to make wholesale changes to the squad before they played UAE in an international friendly on March 29. India managed a remarkable 1-1 draw against Oman but ended up getting thrashed by the UAE 0-6 subsequently. He had made eight changes to the squad that played Oman, which itself had 10 debutants.
“The sole reason we played these games against Oman and UAE was to check how much our guys are able to match strong teams at the moment. And it wouldn’t be fair if we hadn’t given everyone a chance in their positions to check them out, and get the answers we are looking for. It was easier against Oman because they also went out of the competitive rhythm, but it was entirely different against UAE wherein the competitive rhythm was at the maximum – their championship is in full swing,” Stimac said.
The defeat was India’s heaviest defeat since their 1-9 defeat to Kuwait in 2010 and made it 10 matches without a win for Stimac as head coach of the team. The Asian leg of the World Cup qualifiers also double up as qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup as well, for which India are still in contention. They need to win at least two out of three matches — against Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — to gain direct qualification to the Asian Cup, which Stimac said was the real target before the friendly against Oman.
“Self-confidence can only be shaken by those who do not believe in what we do. The best ones will learn lessons from these unpleasant results, and keep going forward together. They will invest more time in their work, improve their muscle strength and knowledge in technical-tactical points. At the beginning of our work we had clearly stated our goals – to qualify for the AFC Cup 2023, and create a team that will take a more serious part in the next WCQ 2026,” Stimac said.