The scoreline might have hurt, but the way India was dominated in the 0-6 defeat to UAE last Monday has left a deep scar which will take time to heal. With a couple of months left for the remainder of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, head coach Igor Stimac must take drastic steps to redeem himself.
Indian football suffered its most horrific night in the past decade, last Monday, when the national team succumbed to a full-strength UAE squad 0-6 at the Zabeel Stadium, in Dubai. Detractors might argue with the fact that it was a friendly affair, but the magnitude of the disaster was far too much to look for salvation. This was India’s worst defeat since 2010, leaving Igor Stimac a worried man in the Arabian city.
In fact, the score-line was just one-half of the boiling concern that Indian football’s think tank might pen down in their notebooks. The rest of the blame goes to the officials/broadcasters of the country that have failed to deliver Indian fans the privilege of watching their team perform with the required quality.
Even Igor Stimac might have seen it coming
No matter how much we blabber about the famous 0-0 draw against Qatar during the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, the harsh reality implies that it was nothing less than a fluke. The inability to overcome the likes of Bangladesh and Afghanistan just proved the above-mentioned fact. Igor Stimac has neither been able to achieve something extraordinary during his tenure nor has he gotten enough opportunity to implement the same. But, with an AFC Asian Cup spot still up for grabs and the road motorable, it is evident that the Croat should deem the situation as an immediate aim.
Igor Stimac, not surprisingly, is on the same page, but the course of action could have been handled a bit more systematically. India is set to face Qatar (3rd June), Bangladesh (7th June) and Afghanistan (15th June) in their remaining three World Cup Qualifiers, where a win in two latter matches would be enough for the Blue Tigers to end the campaign on a high and make a cut to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. In between, the Igor Stimac-coached side had a two-match dress rehearsal before the final showdown. It was really the need of the hour to oil the machine during the matches against Oman and UAE.
Agreed that India missed the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Subhasish Bose and Sahal Abdul Samad, but that’s part and parcel of football, we cannot expect everyone to play in every game. The Indian squad still had enough players to field a decent playing XI. Oman and UAE are tough opponents, while the Indians had to be in their top game to combat the fierce nature of the Gulf nations.
Most importantly, India has played Oman twice and UAE once in the past two years, which gives them the cushion to take the field for a positive outcome. But, it was not meant for India to take a stroll in the park with experiments, especially with the teams ranked much higher as per the FIFA rankings.
Igor Stimac’s vision of building a team for the future is justifiable only if India do get an assurance to play at the highest level – for example, a qualification to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Even if we leave aside that, giving youngsters opportunities and some valuable game time is not a bad idea after all, but to experiment to a level that can be detrimental to the morale of the entire squad is not wise. Some decisions are subject to heavy criticisms - like fielding Mashoor Shereef and Adil Khan at the heart of the defence was suicidal, with the duo developing no sorts of communication between them.
The reality check was incoming, with the inference being – India still doesn’t have enough options if the core footballers are absent even for even a single game, which still remains the cause of concern for the grassroots development programme and youth development. But the immediate disaster management Igor Stimac can afford is to work on the weaknesses ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers, with a bit of over two months left.
As per the latest reports, the AIFF along with Igor Stimac have decided to host a 35-day national camp in Kolkata, before flying to Qatar for the all-important clashes. With the injured players likely to be match-fit soon, this is Igor Stimac’s acid-test to prove his worth and an assignment that could well decide his future in Indian football.
Indian’s forced to live stream after broadcasters fail to deliver
Star Sports, the official broadcaster of Indian football for the past few years, took to social media to announce that they do not have the broadcasting rights for the International friendlies against Oman and UAE. With Twitter overflowing with angered Indian football fans, the AIFF took time to gauge the situation and announced that they have initiated talks with Eurosport India to telecast the matches. While the UAE match was not an issue, India worked in tandem with the Oman Football Association to secure the rights to broadcast the match on Eurosport on March 25.
Hi! Indian football team's international friendlies won't be telecast on the Star Sports network as we do not have their rights.— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) March 18, 2021
But the efforts went in vain as thousands of Indian fans missed out on the action as the channel was “experiencing technical difficulties from the source.” It was a setback for the common folk, who were waiting to watch their players in action after 492 days! Running out of options, they logged into Oman Sports TV’s streaming on Youtube to view the match which ended 1-1. The joint apology by the AIFF and Eurosport India came along with the promise of providing quality coverage in the next match against UAE, just three days later.
Even though Eurosport India did manage to telecast the game, the commentary was in Arabic, so was the scorecard and the other information on the screen. With so many debutants on the field, it was difficult for the Indian viewers to make out the players in action. Nonetheless, it was a huge turn-off for the Indian fan base, with the disastrous result making the overall experience unbearable.
With an aim to popularise Indian football in nooks and corners of the nation, the governing body should have taken things more seriously. Lots of lessons learnt, but how much can be implemented is for time to tell. But for starters, repeating the same mistakes will be unpardonable.