The Blue Tigers gathered seven points from eight matches in the second round of the qualifying competition.

Indian Football Team head coach Igor Stimac believes that the Blue Tigers have become much more technical as a team, and that the effort to become further technical continues from him, and his coaching staff.

Speaking after the completion of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Joint Qualifiers, Stimac said: “I was brought in to change the game from a defensive, counter-attacking style to a more progressive version of football that involves us improving our passing and having more control of the game.”

“We have improved our passing accuracy and possession – we have become more technical,” stated Stimac. “I really am grateful that the players did their best out there on the pitch. But we all need to understand that it takes a lot of work and patience to do this. I said, when I joined two years ago, that there will be some suffering on the way, and I stand by it. That’s the only way we can go through this transformation.”

The 53-year-old also went on to state that one of the biggest reasons why he took up the job of coaching the Blue Tigers is because of the challenge of turning a defensive, counter-attacking unit into one that plays more technical football.

“I took this job for one simple reason. One of the biggest challenges in football is to transform a zonal defending and counter-attacking team. The first step is discipline in zonal defence, and we have shown that. We’ve had some issues due to injuries to players like (Sandesh) Jhingan towards the start of the qualifiers,” he said. “But you also need to keep in mind that we only played two home games, technically, facing the Asian champions twice – that too at their own den – Doha. We did well, all things considered,” Igor Stimac said.

The Blue Tigers head coach has brought a lot of fresh blood into the team in the last two years, and amongst them, he feels that midfielder Brandon Fernandes stands out as one who has helped with this transformation into a more technical team.

“We have had many new midfielders like Sahal (Abdul Samad), Liston (Colaco), and (Lallianzuala) Chhangte – (Anirudh) Thapa was already there in the National Team when I had come in. It takes time for these guys to settle, and they all have their strengths and their limits, so we need to be realistic as well. But if you see Brandon, he has done very well – he is technically educated, and provides a lot of passes. He’s also great to have for the set-pieces as well.”

While a lot of new faces have come into the Blue Tigers squad, some have remained a constant, much like a backbone in the India starting XI. Stimac believes that these players, despite being some of the seniors in the team, have improved their game over the last two years.

“What I am proud of is that a lot of players are better than what they were two years ago. Sunil (Chhetri) is better than two years back, and so is Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu).”

“Sandesh is twice as good today, than what he was two years back. He is one of the best defenders in Asia. With a bit more work on a few things, he can become the best,” Stimac averred.

The coach also believes that the good work in Indian Football has already started, and that the beautiful game in the country is indeed moving forward together, with an all-round improvement. 

“We are where we are because Indian Football is going forward, but we cannot stand and admire it. We also need to keep pushing, keep speeding,” said Igor Stimac. “The process will go on now, with the work AIFF has done with the Baby Leagues, and Grassroots football. It will take maybe 10-12 years to take effect, but it will happen.”

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