On national team, Igor Stimac’s suggestion supreme: AIFF’s Kalyan Chaubey | Football News

All things considered – lack of time to prepare, no GPS vests, injuries to key players, being in the toughest group of the Asian Cup – India’s slide to 117 in the FIFA rankings, their worst in seven years, was disappointing but not surprising.

India coach Igor Stimac reacts during a match (REUTERS)
India coach Igor Stimac reacts during a match (REUTERS)

India lost 0-2 to Australia, 0-3 to Uzbekistan and 0-1 to Syria to finish at the bottom of their group in the Asian Cup which ended last week with hosts Qatar retaining the title and redeeming their reputation after a disastrous World Cup. That performance took Qatar up 21 slots and into the top 50 of the world rankings for the first time. Surprise runners-up Jordan climbed 17 slots to be 70th in the world ahead of Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Iceland in the year’s first rankings list released on Thursday.

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Like with China (down to 88 from 79) and Vietnam (105 from 94), quarter-finalists in the last two editions but eliminated in the first round in Doha last month, India’s slide was steep. For perspective, consider this: India finished at the bottom of their group in 2019 and had not qualified for the 2015 finals.

With IM Vijayan, the chair of technical committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), telling head coach Igor Stimac that “that the results in Qatar are now a matter of the past. Our main focus should be on the matches ahead, in the March and June FIFA windows…,” attention has shifted to the World Cup qualifiers.

If India finish among the top two in the group which also has Afghanistan and Kuwait, they will make the third round of the qualifiers for the first time. Beating Kuwait away 1-0 gives India a good chance of doing that. A third round berth will also seal qualification for the 2027 Asian Cup finals.

“Whatever happens in March window (sic), our game against Kuwait is the most important,” Stimac told the technical committee on February 10, as per minutes of that meeting. India play Afghanistan away on March 21, possibly in Saudi Arabia, and host them in Guwahati on March 26. The next set of games are Kuwait at home (June 6) and Qatar away (June 11).

At the meeting Stimac said that he “will kindly request you as TC members to influence everyone” that the home game against Kuwait is held “at a venue where a big crowd can push us to victory.”

AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said on Friday that Hyderabad, a centre in Maharashtra and Kolkata have expressed interest to host the game against Kuwait. “In the matter of the national team, the suggestion of the head coach…is supreme. The respective departments of the AIFF entrusted with taking the decision will do that by discussing with all the stakeholders,” said Chaubey over the phone from Jabalpur.

Of the venues available, at a capacity of nearly 67,000 Salt Lake stadium can hold the most. “We also have world class infrastructure having hosted the men’s FIFA under-17 World Cup,” said Anirban Dutta, general secretary of the Indian Football Association (IFA), which runs the sport in Bengal. “And football is religion in Bengal so India can be assured of support from the 12th player.”

India haven’t played in Kolkata since the Asian Cup qualifiers in June 2022. There were over 40,000 people in each of the three games in group D which ended with India beating Hong Kong 4-0. When India played Bangladesh in 2019, the turnout was 61,486. The crowd in Kolkata can make a difference, said a technical committee member and former international who had a successful career here.

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