As India became the fourth nation in 2019 to keep a clean slate against Asian champions Qatar, that too in an away match, the players in unison credited the result to current Head Coach of the Indian national football team Igor Stimac.
India produced a defensive masterclass to hold Qatar to a goalless draw in their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the tournament hosts Qatar at Doha's Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on Tuesday.
Stimac, who helped Croatia qualify for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014, took charge of the Blue Tigers in May 2019. As a player, he was part of the golden generation of Croatian squad which finished third in the FIFA World Cup 1998.
Midfielder Mandar Rao Desai credited Stimac for bringing back the "positive vibes" in the dressing room which made a "great difference."
"The coach did a lot of research on the opponents and gave us a lot of short videos to watch, and prepare. We watched them perhaps a million times," Mandar said. "At every step, he was there to guide us."
"After the Oman result, it was not easy to play against Qatar. However, coach motivated us all the time. He brought in a lot of positivity which was so crucial as everyone was low on morale," he explained. "That's what good coaches are capable of – lifting up the spirits with their belief, and confidence."
Current AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year 2018-19 Abdul Sahal, who was omnipresent in the midfield initiating, and intercepting stated "we played as a team."
"This is quite unbelievable," he went on. "All the boys are really happy for the coach. He has brought in a lot of changes to our game. We understand we have to do more, and we will surely do more."
"We defended well in the first half. That was important as we were facing the best team in Asia. At the interval, the coach told us to come out and attack, and enjoy our football. That motivated us further. We played it around, and stretched them while maintaining our shape all throughout," the young midfielder added.
Midfielder Anirudh Thapa highlighted the result as the "most memorable moment for him in his career in an Indian jersey."
"This has to rank at the top. Qatar are an extraordinary side and this was a qualifier match as well which makes the result even sweeter for us. I'm glad that we could come here to their home and return with points," he said.
"The coach has changed everything – things we do on and off the pitch. We are all so happy for him. I am happy we were able to make him proud with our performance. He guided, and helped us to achieve this.
Central defender Adil Khan, who led by example couldn’t hide his emotions while looking back at the match. "Playing a team as strong as Qatar who have won all their matches against Asian sides in 2019, and not conceding a goal is special. The credit for the result goes to the entire team."
"Stimac is building a good team. We are making good progress under him. I hope more and more fans start believing in him after this performance," he mentioned. "I can't control my emotions. I am getting goosebumps even thinking of the result. The self-belief in the team defines everything. I was in the National Team some seven years back, but it is a different set-up now," he quipped, as his eyes became moist.