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Stimac sacked after India's exit from WC qualifiers

Source: PTI
Last updated on: June 17, 2024 22:02 IST
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IMAGE: Igor Stimac attends a press conference ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifying round. Photograph: AIFF Media

The All India Football Federation sacked senior men's team Head Coach Igor Stimac on Monday, terminating his contract exactly a year before it was to expire, in the wake of the team's ouster from the second round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers despite getting a relatively easy draw.

Stimac, who was appointed head coach in 2019, was given an extension last October till 2026 by the sport's apex body.


"Noting the disappointing outcome of the Senior Men's National Team's FIFA World Cup 2026 qualification campaign, the members unanimously agreed that a new Head Coach would be best placed to take the team forward," read a statement from the AIFF.

"A notice of termination has been issued to Mr. Stimac by the AIFF Secretariat, and he stands relieved of his obligations with immediate effect."

As per a clause in the contract, the AIFF may now have to pay Stimac nearly US $360,000 (Rs 3 crore approximately) as severance package, which is quite a hefty amount for a federation that has struggled for funds in recent years and reduced its competition budget this year.

The 56-year-old Stimac, who always spoke his mind and occasionally ran into trouble with his employers, was at the helm for five years.

Despite the retirement of long-serving captain Sunil Chhetri, India were in with a chance to make a maiden entry into the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers but their hopes were dashed following a 1-2 defeat at the hands of hosts Qatar in their final second round match on June 11.

The decision to remove him was taken at a meeting chaired by AIFF vice president N A Haris.

"The meeting instructed acting Secretary General Mr. Satyanarayan to notify the current Head Coach Mr. Igor Stimac of its decision to terminate his engagement."

Stimac had once said that he would quit if India did not make the second round of qualifiers but when the team was finally eliminated, he was non-committal.

Stimac, who was part of the Croatia team that made the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup, had taken charge of the Blue Tigers in 2019, after the departure of Stephen Constantine.

Under Stimac, India won four major trophies, including two SAFF Championships, one Intercontinental Cup and a Tri-Nations Series.

The AIFF's technical committee was tasked with assessing Stimac's performance amid the team's disappointing run in the World Cup qualifying campaign and while the federation was keen on paying heed to the panel's recommendation of removing the Croat from the top job, contractual issues were making it difficult for the apex body.

The defeat to lower-ranked Afghanistan at home in March was a bitter pill to swallow for the AIFF brass and since then, Stimac's job has been under threat.

What didn't help Stimac's cause was the team's lacklustre outing in the last AFC Asian Cup in Qatar where India lost three matches, conceded six goals and could not find the back of the net even once.

Stimac was then looking at the World Cup Qualifiers to regain lost ground but there too, the team failed to win enough matches and progress beyond the second round.

In the second round of World Cup Qualifiers, India registered a 1-0 win in the first leg against Kuwait, lost to Qatar 0-3, and drew with Afghanistan 0-0 while playing at neutral venue in Saudi Arabia.

Then came the crushing 1-2 defeat at the hands of Afghanistan in Guwahati, a result that did not go down well with the AIFF as well as followers of Indian football, who termed it unacceptable with many calling for Stimac's head.

He survived the crisis but in the home leg match against Kuwait, which was also Chhetri's swansong from international football, India could not log full points as the packed crowd at Salt Lake Stadium went back home disappointed after the team failed to give a fitting farewell to one of the country's greatest footballers.

In the team's last second round match, poor refereeing robbed India of a chance to secure a historic entry into the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers as Asian champions Qatar rode on a controversial goal to emerge 2-1 winners in Doha.

India were ahead thanks to Lallianzuala Chhangte's 37th minute strike but disaster struck when the referee allowed Yousef Aymen's goal after the ball appeared to have gone out of play.

The hugely controversial decision disturbed India's momentum as Qatar scored their second through Ahmed Al-Rawi in the 85th minute.

India managed just two points from four matches in the qualifiers in 2024, scoring only two goals in those games.

Stimac was at the helm in 53 matches during his tenure, which began with a 3-1 loss to Curacao in 2019. India won 19 of those 53 matches, drawing 14 and losing 20.

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