Football

FIFA WC Qualifiers: We Can Reach Third Round, Says Stimac After India's Embarassing Loss

Ranked 158 in the world, Afghanistan shocked 117-ranked India 2-1 as the home team suffered one of its most embarrassing defeats in recent years despite talisman Sunil Chhetri's 94th international goal in his 150th match

PTI
Igor Stimac remains optimistic despite loss to Afghanistan Photo: PTI
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Embattled Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac said his side can still progress to the third round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, putting up a brave front despite an embarrassing defeat to lower-ranked Afghanistan here on Tuesday. (More Football News)

Ranked 158 in the world, Afghanistan shocked 117-ranked India 2-1 as the home team suffered one of its most embarrassing defeats in recent years despite talisman Sunil Chhetri's 94th international goal in his 150th match

"Of course, I think we can qualify (for third round of World Cup Qualifiers) and I told you before as well we are going to be a different team after a long camp.

"You can see that half of our players are not able to bring that intensity and I cannot change that in five days, I am sorry," Stimac said after the match.

"I repeat myself again and again and again. I hope you remember all these players were the same players in June-July and Afghanistan is not a different team than Kuwait and Lebanon teams that we had beaten and dominated."

In his landmark game, Chhetri did what was expected of him and found the back of the net from the spot in the 37th minute after Haroon Amiri handled the ball inside the box in India's home leg match in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

However, the Afghans hit back in the second half with goals from Rahmat Akbari (71') and Sharif Mukhammad (88'), leaving the packed house at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium heartbroken after yet another failure.

Stimac apologised for the defeat following a below-par performance from his wards. When asked if he would resign, he said that he is here to "fulfil a mission" and he would be in charge of the team till June.

Stimac, who has been at the helm since 2019, last year received a contract extension that is supposed to keep him in charge until June 2026.

He said that this is the same Indian team that was consistently winning last year.

"The difference is only in the intensity," he said.

He said had he got a longer time to prepare, the results would have been different.

Stimac did not agree with the suggestion that his team was tactically outplayed on Tuesday but said that India should not have conceded the penalty through a silly mistake.

He said that the Afghan attack was one-dimensional, playing long ball into the penalty area and the Indian defence was "ineffective in checking this predictable approach."

"We did many things correct today but something that was very poor was that after being in control for most of the game, there were some points in the game when we give something away. As a team, we are frozen for 5-6 minutes, which is inexplicable."

 "It's not only about trying to qualify for the third round, it's also about what we are going to do there, when we get there. We have to do well in June otherwise we will stay where we were in the last eight years, qualifying against Myanmar and Guam."

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