"I could be fired, but not even Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho could do more in these circumstances," said Igor Stimac while speaking to the Indian media over a virtual interaction.
The Croat took charge as the head coach of the Indian National team in May 2019, and last week, he led India to the next round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Igor Stimac's reign started with the King's Cup in Thailand, where India lost 3-1 to Curacao and beat hosts Thailand 1-0 to finish third. Following the King's Cup, the Blue Tigers hosted the Hero Intercontinental Cup, in which Igor Stimac's men finished last and just earned one draw in the entire tournament.
After the Hero Intercontinental Cup, India started the joint FIFA World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers with a narrow 2-1 home loss to Oman. After the loss, India played a historic draw against Qatar, the 2019 Asian Champions, and 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts. The Blue tigers could not capitalize on the momentum against Qatar and went to play successive draws against lower-ranked teams Bangladesh and Afghanistan. After the back-to-back draws, they lost 1-0 to Oman in November 2019, which proved their last match before the COVID-19 pandemic embarked the world.
After the narrow defeat to Oman, India played their first match International match in over a year when they faced Oman again in a friendly game in UAE in March 2021. The game resulted in a 1-1 draw, and a heavy 6-0 defeat by the hands of the United Arab Emirates was followed.
After the two friendlies against Oman and UAE, India resumed their journey in the World Cup qualifiers. The first match was a hard-fought loss against Qatar in Qatar, but India had switched gears in the next match against Bangladesh. Two late goals from Sunil Chhetri gave India their first victory in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Still, it was too late as India was mathematically out of contention for further qualification in the World Cup. India needed a draw against Afghanistan to qualify for the next round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, and Igor Stimac's men got the job done.
Igor Stimac has managed only two wins in his 15 games as manager of the Indian team but led India to the third round of qualifiers in the AFC Asian Cup. When asked about how he thought he had fared as the coach of India, he said, "I could be fired, but not even Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho could do more in these circumstances."
The Indian football fans wanted to change the style of play, and he was able to impart a possession-based style to the team. The ongoing pandemic has disrupted most of his time as a coach, and unfortunately, India did not even play a single match between December 2019 to March 2021. The pandemic canceled many national team training camps and reevaluated many plans compared to Indian football.
The third round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers will kick off in February 2022, and the Blue Tigers have more than seven months to prepare for it.