New Delhi: Indian Football Team are virtually knocked out of the race for a place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup with their 0-1 loss against Oman. At the launch of the 2019-20 I-League season in the national capital, Indian team head coach Igor Stimac came to the defence of his team’s performance so far in the qualifiers, arguing that India don’t have too many players who are currently scoring goals.
India have so far scored just three goals in the qualifiers with Sunil Chhetri, Adil Khan and Seiminlen Doungel being the only ones finding the back of the net. The lack of goals and goal-scorer has been a worry for Stimac.
“Can you mention to me one player with Indian passport playing as striker and scoring goals?” he fired at the reporters with questions. “You mentioned one to me (Sunil Chhetri)”.
“Why do you expect us to score goals in international football when none of the Indian passport holders are playing as strikers and scoring goals domestically. I don't work with the players on a daily basis, I work with them for five days. The good thing is we are creating chances, we are not holding back and playing without fear,” Stimac added.
Stimac brushed aside the idea of having to replace Sunil Chhetri in the national team setup, saying that his body is like a 29-year-old and doesn’t understand why everyone is asking for his replacement.
“As long as he is training like he is doing right now, behaving like this and giving his best for the national team, he will be with us, I can assure you that,” Stimac said.
Stimac though went onto indicate a more systematic problem with Indian football teams and the lack of genuine goal scorers: “But at the same time. I will have the chance to find out a few more players like Sunil Chhetri. I hope that once Jobby Justin starts playing games he will start scoring goals, so I can have him in the national team. I hope a few other players like Seiminlen Doungel from FC Goa will start playing as central forward and Manvir Singh start scoring goals. We have different options. I am very excited about all that. We developed all aspects of our game but there is still the scoring problem, we conceded some silly goals, we need to accept that.”
India are fourth in Group E with just three points from five games - 3 draws and 2 losses - and are yet to register a win in the tournament, which is also serving as joint-qualifiers for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
India started with a 1-2 loss at home to Oman despite having opened the scoring and then managed to get a historic goalless draw away to Asian Champions Qatar. After that, the 1-1 draws against Bangladesh (home) and Afghanistan (away) derailed India’s campaign before a huge blow came with the loss to Oman.
“Last game in Oman, we were defeated by an offside goal, it was clear to everyone. That's part of football, we need to keep working hard,” Stimac said.
Ahead of the international break – where India played the two games – Stimac had asked for some time with the national team players, which was turned down by the Indian clubs.
Stimac added that he has few plans in mind to change things up ahead of India’s next international assignment, saying that he will something he desperately lacked in the run-up to the games completed.
“We are doing some re-structuring in regards to the programme. We will have a great chance between the camps in March and June to organise six to seven weeks of good, hard work because there is a big gap between these two camps - from Qatar game to last two games against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. We will have players together and have enough time with them to develop their game,” Stimac said.
Stimac went onto rattle out numbers to prove his argument that the Indian team, under him, is making progress.
“When you take the numbers from the Asian Cup under Mr. Constantine and the last five games, the numbers are the following: the average number of passes in the Asian Cup was 242. Now it's 400. Passing accuracy at the Asian Cup was 67 percent, now it's 82. We reduced the number of long-range passes from 25 percent to 15 percent. We developed the match tempo as well. It's all about patience and how much we are willing to wait for this team to grow and develop.”
Stimac said that the will be watching the I-League closely to add players to his national set-up. With the I-League season beginning November 30, Stimac didn’t have the luxury to see the players for the first five games of the qualifiers. However, he made it a point to mention that the current national players have also risen from the I-League itself.
“I am here to show that I-League is as important for us as the ISL. I am here to give my support to all the players who will participate in the upcoming season of I-League. I am here to send a message that all those who have an Indian passport are possible candidates for the senior Indian national team. I am here to tell them also that all players in the Indian national team came through I-League and that's the way. It's up to them how they are going to play and present themselves. I will come to watch the games live whenever I can to support whatever they do. They shouldn't feel lonely and forgotten because they have great importance in Indian football,” Stimac said.
The I-League starts November 30 with Aizawl FC hosting Mohun Bagan at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in at 2 PM. All matches will be shown on DSports.