The Blue Tigers will be back in action in less then a month for their final three matches of the joint second round 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Doha.
After an enforced 19 month pandemic break for the qualifiers, India get back facing hosts Qatar (June 3), Bangladesh (June 7), and Afghanistan (June 15) with a direct spot for the next round of 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers up for grabs.
But I have to go back to Monday, March 29, when a new look India face the United Arab Emirates in Dubai with hopes that Igor Stimac’s side would be able to build on a promising second half performance in a 1-1 draw against Oman four day earlier. But the UAE match was a harsh and brutal reality check for Team India and head coach Igor Stimac hopefully realises where we stand after a such heavy 0-6 defeat to the Middle Eastern side.
While there has been a lot of talk by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and head coach Igor Stimac about the creation of a new India national football team, multiple players getting their international debuts and the development of new talent after the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the results since Igor Stimac took over from Stephen Constantine two years ago speaks a different language. Since June 2019, Igor has only won one game against Thailand, drawn five and lost six across qualifiers and friendlies with the goalless draw against defending AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar being the highlight so far.
But India have shown initial promise like the matches against Oman, but both games ended in losses, while India struggled against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Now some will say, the coach has lost more than a year due to the ongoing pandemic, but still looking forward to the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers next month, the aim of these two friendlies against Oman and the UAE should have been to set a new first eleven to face Qatar, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, but Igor Stimac chose to experiment by sending out two different starting elevens against Oman and the United Arab Emirates to test as many new players as possible.
I would have rather liked a more pragmatic approach in further building on the basics that Stephen Constantine had set for Team India, which especially showed in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, where India was not only able to compete with continental heavyweights but challenged for a knockout stage spot. Igor Stimac from the start spoke about rebuilding, giving Indian football an identity and playing more possession-based football, but he forgot what kind of a players pool and their abilities he has at his disposal.
Taking the emotions out of the assessment and being brutally honest, then one has not seen any real progress over the last couple of years. I’d even go further and say, India has rather taken steps back in their development.
I had hoped the 2019 AFC Asian Cup would have been a turning point and be a kick start for Indian football besides a strong 2020/21 Indian Super League with young talent showing themselves at the national stage which would result in not only better performances of the Blue Tigers but the same also showing in their results. It seems the cycle of promise and disappointment for Indian football fans continues.
Then Igor Stimac and I reiterate the point again, rather then ensuring India’s spot in the nest stage of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, in these very valuable friendlies in Marcg decided to test as many players as possible rather than trying to find a suitable first eleven, even falling back on experienced players to get his side through to the next round of qualifiers, then to me one thing is also clear, a national coach rarely get enough time with his players to develop an own style and philosophy unlike a club coach. Its rather about ensuring the cycle of qualifiers and continental competitions is met, so a national team gets maximum exposure.
With the pandemic raging in India and around the world, these are not normal times, so I hope that Team India will be able to get the desired result and move into the next round.