India coach Igor Stimac reacts for the first time after 0-6 loss to UAE: ‘One heavy defeat doesn’t mean we return to play weaker opponents’
NEW DELHI: India’s recent 0-6 loss to United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a friendly broke the hearts of several football fans in the country. Before that debacle, the Blue Tigers fought valiantly against Oman to draw 1-1, a performance that earned them a lot of appreciation. Coach Igor Stimac had made eight changes in the starting line-up against UAE from the team which played against Oman. That proved detrimental for the side.
Stimac reacted for the first time after the ignominious loss, putting up a brave face to TOI’s questions in an exclusive interview.
The 0-6 loss to UAE finds its place in the list of top 5 biggest defeats India has suffered since the turn of the 21st century. What’s your first reaction?
If you want to weigh up the recent friendly matches, then you also need to compare and take a closer look at the teams India was playing against before and the teams against whom we have played since I have been in charge. One heavy defeat certainly doesn’t mean we give up and return to the pleasure of defeating opponents who do not pose any obstacle in Asian football.
The magnitude of the defeat must have definitely hurt the team badly?
I have repeated myself several times and I am mentioning again that the path we are taking will be difficult and sometimes painful. But, I know from experience that it’s the right way.
You made several changes in both games (against Oman and UAE) and your style has come in for criticism. What do you have to say?
Everyone needs to understand the difference between friendly games and qualifiers. We have made it clear that we will insist on much stronger opponents in friendlies to help our players gain the necessary experience. Friendly games are always to be used as a part of development and results are less important there.
You have always insisted on a long-term development plan. In the process, results have suffered. Isn’t that having a dent on the confidence of our players?
Self-confidence can only be shaken if guys do not believe in what we are doing. The best ones will learn lessons from these unpleasant results and keep going forward together. They will invest more time in their work ethic, improve their muscle strength and enhance their knowledge in technical as well as tactical finer points of the game.
You are talking about a process that’s being put in place. Then what are the realistic goals for the national team?
At the beginning itself, when I took over, I had clearly stated our goals: to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in 2023 and create a team that will mount a serious campaign for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
What’s your assessment of India’s qualifying campaign for WC 2022?
I must remind you of the truth that we held Qatar in Qatar. Qatar had the set of players who are going to play in the World Cup next year. The Oman match was very close, a match which we should have killed. That match was going to determine whether we were going to fight for the first two positions in the group (and qualify for the next round). As it happened, due to bad luck or you can say inexperience in such important games, we tripped. This time, though, we managed to hold Oman 1-1 in the first friendly. My boys fought gallantly.