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Igor Stimac sacked: All India Football Federation says coach relieved ‘of his obligations with immediate effect’ | Football News

Igor Stimac’s five-year reign as head coach of the Indian national football team came to an end on Monday after the All-India Football Federation decided to terminate the Croatian’s contract after a disappointing AFC Asian Cup campaign was followed by a failed attempt to take India to the third round of the FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers. During his tenure India’s FIFA ranking went from 101 after the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, to 99 in 2023, to now 121.

“A notice of termination has been issued to Mr. Stimac by the AIFF Secretariat, and he stands relieved of his obligations with immediate effect. The AIFF thanks Mr. Stimac for his service to the National Team and wishes him well in his future endeavours,” said a statement on the AIFF website.

Under the mercurial 56-year-old, India played 53 games out of which the country lost 20, won 19 and drew 14, with 71 goals scored and 76 conceded for a 35.8%-win record. Despite many of the failings of the national team during this five-year period, what eventually broke the camel’s back was the inability to reach the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.

When the draw for the 2023 Asian Cup and the WCQs were announced, the consensus was that while India had a tough group for the continental competition, their World Cup qualifier games were as much of a walk in the park as one could hope. A win against Kuwait on the road further raised hope but then that result was followed by two shocking games against Afghanistan – one where India was able to muster only one point out of a possible six. They then drew against Kuwait at home and lost to Qatar 1-2 on the road to end their campaign with a total of five points and third amongst the four teams in their group.

Stimac, in his bombastic fashion had claimed that he would quit himself if the target of reaching the third round was not met: “If I don’t take India to the third round I will leave, with my pride, with my honour on everything that was done here in the five years of work. I will leave my position to someone else.”

The team’s lack of ascension over the past year, was in particular, another damning factor against the Croatian. The poor planning on part of the federation saw Stimac having to coach a young, and inexperienced team led by Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan at the Hangzhou Asian Games. This team lost 5-1 to China, drew 1-1 against Myanmar and beat Bangladesh 1-0 before bowing out of the multi-sport event after a 2-0 loss to Saudi Arabia.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of India’s health as a team was at the AFC Asian Cup 2023. Locked in a group with Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria – the national team showed just how advanced top Asian teams were. Stimac had demanded a one-month camp prior to the tournament and upon not receiving what he felt was crucial, the Croatian gave up on the tournament and said that qualification to Round 3 of the WCQ was his priority and not the Asian Cup.

12 days after all players were released from their clubs and reached Qatar, India lost their opener by two goals to Australia. They then conceded three goals in the first half against Uzbekistan and then lost to a late Syrian goal in their final group game. All in all – six goals conceded by Stimac’s wards and zero points gained.

Despite all these failings of the senior national team over the last six months, Stimac remained steadfast in his beliefs that progress had been made. But even he started to see the writing on the wall towards the end of his tenure. After India lost in Qatar thanks to a goal that was given even though it seemed like the ball had gone out of play, Stimac was not his usual vocal self.

Instead of complaining and reacting to the goal as he usually would, he instead chose to say this: “The facilities you provide to coaches here, the way the players are taken care of and providing the best in the world facilities is amazing. I know that most coaches would love to experience a certain stage of Qatar. I would lie to you if I told you that I wouldn’t be interested in working in Qatar if that’s going to happen, only god knows.”

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