Coach Igor Stimac to step down if Blue Tigers fail to make third round

Sunil Chhetri ready for 150th India cap as they take on Afghanistan in home tie in Guwahati

Igor Stimac (left) and Sunil  Chhetri at a press conference on 25 March (photo courtesy: AIFF)
Igor Stimac (left) and Sunil Chhetri at a press conference on 25 March (photo courtesy: AIFF)

NH Sports Bureau

Igor Stimac, the head coach of Indian football team, is ready to step down if he cannot keep his commitment of taking the Blue Tigers to their first-ever third round of the 2026 Fifa World Cup Qualifiers. Coming back after a goalless draw with Afghanistan at Abha, Saudi Arabia, Sunil Chhetri & Co now take them on in the home match before an expectant Guwahati crowd on Tuesday, 26 March.

‘’If I don’t take India to the third round I will leave, with my pride, with my honour on everything that was done in the five years of work. I will leave my position to someone else,’’ Stimac told the media on Monday, 25 March. India can still advance to the third round but the task has just got a lot tougher after last week’s stalemate in the away leg. They are now second in the group behind Qatar with four points from three games, one ahead of Kuwait (three points from as many matches).

Stimac, who has been at the helm since 2019, last year received a contract extension that will keep him in charge until June 2026. As per his agreement with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the latter is not bound to pay him full salary or any severance bonus should the former Croat World Cupper quit on his own.

A capacity crowd is expected to fill the stands at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati with fans set to travel from neighbouring northeastern states hoping to witness the big game where the hosts hope to claim full points. A possible third round entry into the 2026 World Cup qualifiers will also make them eligible for the third berth in a row at the Asian Cup finals.

‘’It’s really nice to feel the atmosphere and the buzz here,’’ said Stimac. ‘’We were disappointed with the end result in the first game against Afghanistan. We need to make things right here. I hope there will be a good crowd in Assam tomorrow (26 March),’’ he said.

Almost 23,000 people watched India’s clash against Oman five years ago where the visitors came from a goal down to win 2-1, cancelling out Chhetri’s opening strike. Despite the defeat, it was one of India's positive performances in the first few months of Stimac's reign.

A key sub-plot of the fixture will be Chhetri’s expected 150th appearance for the national team, a feat no player has ever achieved for India and only 40 players have for their country in the history of the sport. However, the captain was quick to point out that Tuesday should only be about the the Indian team and the job in hand.

The match, set to kick off at 7 pm, will be broadcast on Sports18 1, Sports18 1 HD and Sports18 3, and streamed on Jio Cinema.

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