Stimac: India could have done better in joint qualifiers but improvement can’t be denied

India head coach Igor Stimac believes the national team could have done better in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers but in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on their training and schedule, they should not be too unhappy with their performance.

The Blue Tigers recently played their remaining three matches of the second round in Doha and – following 1-0 defeat against Qatar, 2-0 win against Bangladesh and 1-1 draw against Afghanistan -- directly made it to the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers after finishing third in Group E. Heading into these three games, the Indians were already out of contention for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

"Mission accomplished. In a few words, it was difficult. We lost 500 days with the pandemic around us. But we accomplished the aim. Is that good enough? We are not happy. We expected more points from the group. But we need to be happy …Hopefully, we will have more friendlies and we can fulfil the expectations of fans and the media,” Stimac said on Friday in a media interaction organised by the AIFF Media Team. 

The Croatian also assessed his own performance at the helm since joining the team in May 2019. "When you start a project, it is difficult. It was the same with Mr [Stephen] Constantine [India head coach before Stimac]. I was brought here to change the style of football from defensive to having more control of the game, improving on passing accuracy. From that aspect, we have succeeded in a certain way. I have my numbers which show that we have improved in ball passing accuracy and ball retention,” he said.

Stimac went on to add that the Indians have particularly showed a lot of improvement in defence in the last two years having conceded just seven goals in eight matches of the joint qualifiers.

Stimac brought more improvements to light before discussing at length as to what was plaguing the national team and how to address the issues. "The fat percentage was nearly 12 which was unacceptable when I took over (in May 2019). Now all of them are around 7.9% [on average]. That is top class. But they do not have enough games in a calendar. Playing four months of professional football, we cannot go forward as a country. A season of eight months gives us more competition. To do anything better, you need to work more. You need to have more high-quality games. 

"If some players have good passing, then they do not have muscle strength or lack pace. We are lower in muscle mass by seven to nine kilos. There is a difference in pace and understanding of the game. We need good foreign coaches in academies to achieve success as a country,” he said.

With Round 3 of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers pushed back to February, the 53-year-old shared his plans as to what he was looking to do till the Blue Tigers regrouped for the competition next year. "First, we need to analyse with the technical committee what happened in the two years. I can show you the achievements, weaknesses, and improvements in what was a difficult campaign. No one would have predicted that we will be working in such circumstances. But it was the same for all. 

"My plan is ready for the technical committee meeting. There are FIFA windows and we have to make the most of it. We plan to start the national camp in August for two international matches in September. Then depending on the start of the Hero ISL, we will continue to work with the national team with two more friendlies in October and November. Then the Hero ISL can start and when in February the third-round qualifiers will start, the players will be ready," he said. 

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