FIFA qualifiers: AIFF lodges protest over Qatar equaliser, Stimac cries ‘injustice’

Of course, Stimac himself has big question mark hanging over him as Blue Tigers’ FIFA World Cup run ends

AIFF head coach Igor Stimac
AIFF head coach Igor Stimac

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The Blue Tigers will now have to temper their expectations and begin all over again, with their journey to the FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers ending with a shattering defeat to Qatar in Doha last night, placing a large question mark on the future of head coach Igor Stimac, while talismanic captain Sunil Chettri signed off from international football last week.

The outrage in the Indian football fraternity, meanwhile, is understandable at host Qatar's highly controversial goal in the last quarter to pull back the score to 1-1, before driving the final nail in the coffin five minutes from time. A bitter Stimac limited himself to calling it an "irregular goal", while the All India Football Federation (AIFF) top brass has lodged an official complaint with the concerned authorities.

In a formal statement, the AIFF said: ‘’We, at the All India Football Federation, always believed that the spirit of the game should be upheld, and the regulations be followed without raising doubts over it. While maintaining the same stand, we, after the game against Qatar, in consultation with our Chief Refereeing Officer, decided to write to the FIFA Head of Qualifiers, the AFC Head of Referees, the AFC Head of Competitions and the Match Commissioner for the game, requesting them to look into the grave supervision error caused during the game that practically cost us a place in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Round 3.

"Given its severity, we have respectfully requested all concerned officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. Furthermore, we have urged them to explore the possibilities of sporting compensation to address the injustice. Ensuring the integrity of the game is paramount, we truly trust that the FIFA and the AFC will take necessary steps in this regard.’’

The question of an absence of a VAR (video-assisted referee) at this level also came up but acting AIFF secretary-general M. Satyanarayan, clarified to National Herald: "Unfortunately, the use of technology will be there from the next round of qualifiers.  It’s still an expensive proposition and it’s precisely for this that English Premiership is the only league in the world which has it, even their Championship does not have it.’’

While an improved display by India on Tuesday — along with the dubious goal — may soften the blow of the exit to an extent, the fact remains that they have only themselves to blame for landing in such a situation. They squandered the biggest opportunity of moving out of the group by managing just one point against Afghanistan from two games (including a defeat at home), a team against whom they had an even chance, and failing to put it past Kuwait despite huge crowd support in Kolkata.

The calls for Stimac’s head have again gained steam on social media. The AIFF had extended his contract for two more years after the Asian Cup finals earlier this year, though they can choose to dispense with his services, albeit with a heavy financial settlement for severance.

The other possible exit route for the former Croatian World Cupper is to resign, as he had hinted earlier, since his team has failed to reach the historic third round of the World Cup qualifiers and an automatic entry in the 2027 Asian Cup finals.

As things stand, the senior India team’s next engagement will be the Asian Cup qualifiers in March next year and the SAFF Championship, and all eyes will be on the future of Stimac. However, a change at the top is once again no guarantee of correcting traditional failings like indecision in the final third from scoring positions, or letting the guard drop in the final quarter.

Speaking at the post-match media conference, Stimac did not mince words. ‘’Qatar were lucky tonight, especially because they came back from 0-1 with an irregular goal. I can confirm that now because I have seen the replay. The whole ball was out of play and the goal was alllowed. It shouldn’t be happening in today’s football because that goal changed everything in this game. 

‘’It’s kind of an injustice to my boys tonight because we were very close to winning this game and qualifying for the third round, but it didn’t happen. Many people will say that Qatar played with their reserve team but our team is not too old compared to Qatar."

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines