In 2019, when Stephen Constantine stepped down after a disappointing AFC Asian Cup Campaign, it seemed all doom and gloom for the Blue Tigers. For football fans across the country, the goal of a national team making massive strides on the international stage had started seeming like a distant dream with the national team languishing at 108 in the FIFA rankings. What happened thereafter is the reason, the same fans have a reason to smile today.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) appointed the Croatian footballing stalwart, Igor Štimac, as the head coach of the Indian National Football Team. The appointment marked a turning point in Indian football, as Štimac brought a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to the team.
His tenure as the head coach has been characterised by a focus on developing a robust footballing system, nurturing young talents, and achieving impressive results in international competitions, with 2023 epitomising the fine work done by the gritty Croat. Let's delve into the journey of Igor Štimac with the Indian National Team, exploring the key factors that contributed to his impact on Indian football, as we know it today–
Igor Štimac's journey as a football player and coach is one of immense dedication and achievement. As a player, Štimac was an integral part of the Croatian national team that finished third in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, showcasing his prowess as a central defender. Following his retirement from professional football, the former West Ham man ventured into coaching, gaining valuable experience at various clubs across the globe.
Courtesy: The Indian Express
Štimac's arrival as the head coach of the Indian National Team was met with high expectations albeit some skepticism regarding whether he could transform the footballing fortune in the country with his tactics. His tactical acumen and experience at the international level made him an ideal candidate to lead India's footballing revolution. The 55-year-old had managed the Croatian national team in 2012-13 and there was an expectation that the manager who had managed the likes of Luka Modric and a young Marcelo Brozovic could propel Indian football to the next level
While India is still far away from comparing against the best teams in the world, there have been several moments under the helm of the current manager that have laid the way forward for the Blue Tigers.
A Look at The Most Important Matches India Played under Igor Štimac–
In the AFC Asian Cup held in the UAE, India faced Thailand in their opening match. It was India's first appearance in the tournament since 2011. Under Štimac's guidance, the team played with determination and flair, securing a convincing 4-1 victory over Thailand.
The win not only set the tone for India's campaign in the tournament but also signaled the team's intent to make a mark in Asian football by securing their first win over their rivals in 55 years. India's star striker Sunil Chhetri scored an impressive hat-trick during the match, making him the first Indian player to achieve this feat in the history of the AFC Asian Cup.
One of the standout matches under Igor Štimac's reign was India's away fixture against Qatar in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Qatar was the reigning Asian champions and a formidable force on their home turf. Despite being the underdogs, India showcased exceptional resilience and defensive prowess, holding Qatar to a goalless draw.
The result was celebrated as a historic achievement, as it highlighted India's potential to compete with the best teams in Asia. India's goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh made an astounding 11 saves during the match, earning him accolades as one of the best performances by an Indian goalkeeper in recent times and proving to one and all that Štimac’s team was here to make a statement.
In a significant international friendly match against Oman, India once again demonstrated their progress under Štimac. The match was closely contested, and India's relentless efforts culminated in a late equaliser, ending the game in a 1-1 draw with Manvir Singh clinching a fantastic result for the men in blue.
The result showcased the team's never-say-die attitude and their ability to compete against formidable opponents placed 23 positions above them at that time in the FIFA rankings. India's backline made several crucial interceptions during the match, earning praise for their maturity and composure on the big stage.
One of the key factors contributing to Igor Stimac's impact on Indian football is his innovative approach to training and fitness regimes. Recognizing the importance of physical conditioning and tactical acumen, Stimac introduced a comprehensive training program that has revolutionised the way the Indian players prepare for matches. Under Stimac's guidance, the Indian National Team underwent a rigorous transformation in their training methods. He emphasised the need for players to be agile, fast, and adaptable to various playing styles.
Training sessions became more intense, with a focus on improving players' endurance, strength, and agility. Stimac's experience as an elite footballer and coach allowed him to design training routines that were tailored to the specific needs of the players, ensuring maximum efficiency and optimal performance on the field. Additionally, Stimac's coaching staff brought in advanced sports science and technology to monitor players' fitness levels and track their progress.
High-tech gadgets, heart rate monitors, and GPS systems became standard tools during training sessions, providing valuable data to assess players' performance and prevent injuries.Beyond physical conditioning, Stimac also introduced tactical innovations during training sessions. He emphasised the importance of understanding opponents' playing styles and strategizing accordingly. Players were encouraged to think critically on the field and adapt their tactics in real-time, making the Indian team more flexible and difficult to predict for opponents.
Courtesy: Telegraph India
Igor Štimac's arrival as the head coach of the Indian National Football Team has ushered in a new era of hope and transformation. Under his guidance, India has showcased remarkable improvement in their performances and achieved commendable results against higher-ranked opponents consistently setting up a positive precedent.
When Igor Štimac took charge of the Indian National Team in 2019, India's FIFA World Ranking stood at 101. Despite possessing considerable talent, India struggled to make a significant impact on the global footballing stage. However, under Štimac's guidance, the team exhibited a noticeable improvement in their performances and results.
As of the current date, Štimac's tenure has witnessed India's FIFA World Ranking steadily improving. The team's dedication to tactical discipline and hard work has borne fruit, and India has climbed up the FIFA rankings to a more respectable position, with the team going as high as 98 recently and still standing in the top 100 in the latest FIFA rankings. The improved ranking is indicative of the positive impact Štimac has had on the team and their overall performance.
Beyond the tactical aspects, Štimac's influence has been evident in the players' mental fortitude and self-belief. He has nurtured a winning mentality within the squad, encouraging them to challenge their limits and never settle for mediocrity. As a result, the Indian team has displayed a commendable fighting spirit, bouncing back from setbacks and turning adversity into opportunities for growth.
Courtesy: Hindustan Times
Igor Štimac's tenure as the head coach of the Indian National Team has brought about a transformative shift in the landscape of Indian football. The impact he has made during his time at the helm has been nothing short of remarkable, breathing new life into a nation that has long sought recognition on the global footballing stage. As Štimac's journey with the Indian team continues, his influence and legacy are already shaping the future of football in India.