Fifa qualifiers: Blue Tigers look for redemption against Kuwait in Kolkata

AIFF back chief coach Igor Stimac for two more months in the hope of a third round entry

Igor Stimac with Sunil Chhetri (photo: AIFF)
Igor Stimac with Sunil Chhetri (photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Indian football is hoping against hope again as they bank on an all-important Fifa 2026 World Cup qualifier match against Kuwait in Kolkata on 6 June.  The Blue Tigers, who had two forgettable outings against Afghanistan, will have to beat the Gulf team to keep alive their hopes of making third round of the qualifiers for the first time and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) will not rock the boat with chief coach Igor Stimac till then.

In a virtual meeting with the Croatian coach on Thursday, 4 April, the AIFF top brass decided to keep the faith on him as any decision to dispense with his services would mean a hefty severance package for Stimac. The committee, constituted by AIFF supremo Kalyan Choubey, decided to back the coach despite a series of recent lackadaisical performance in the Asian Cup finals and the qualifiers, which saw them slipping to 121 in the Fifa rankings.

“A year ago, I said that we would try and qualify for Round 3 and currently we are second in the group. We will discuss this issue further after the match against Kuwait on 6 June, 2024,” the coach told the meeting in response to the query if he had actually announced his quitting plans in a media briefing ahead of the home match against Afghanistan.

“The game against Kuwait will be one of the biggest days in Indian football, as a win will immensely brighten our chances to qualify for Round 3 for the first time. The staff and the players are all aware of this historic moment that awaits us, and we will do everything in our capacity to win,” Stimac told the meeting, which was attended by former international I.M.Vijayan, chairman of the AIFF technical committee and the federation top brass.

“We had fruitful discussions with the AIFF committee members. I appreciate everyone’s concern and hope we will join together to create history in June,” said the head coach.

 India are still second in the group with four points from four games ahead of Afghanistan on goal-difference and Kuwait, who have three points. Qatar, meanwhile, are on top with 12 points. If Chhetri & Co can win in Kolkata, they can eliminate Kuwait from the running and have one foot in the third round.

Vijayan told the AIFF media: “I am happy that we had a good discussion with the head coach. In the World Cup qualifiers, we have two matches in hand with a chance to make Round 3 for the first time in history. We must stay focussed on the next two matches and stay solidly behind the national team so that they can do their best.”  

M. Satya Narayan, the acting secretary general, promised all necessary support to the coach. His support staff and the team to prepare for the final two games in Round 2 in the best possible way.

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