AIFF sacks head coach Igor Stimac after India's exit from World Cup qualifiers

India could not make the third round of the World Cup qualifier following a 1-2 defeat against Qatar in their final second round match.
Igor Stimac (Photo | AFP)
Igor Stimac (Photo | AFP)

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

Stimac, who was appointed as the head coach in 2019, was in last October given an extension until 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," the AIFF said in a statement.

"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 now might have to pay Stimac nearly USD 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 has reduced its competitions budget this year.

When PTI reached out to Stimac in Croatia, he preferred to keep mum for the time being on the advice of his lawyer.

"My lawyer suggested me not to speak publicly until it's all clear," Stimac said.

"You will get invite for my press conference once I am ready," he added.

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.

Igor Stimac (Photo | AFP)
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The decision to remove him was taken at a meeting chaired by AIFF vice president NA Haris.

"The meeting instructed the 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 semifinals 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, which attracted criticism from many.

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.

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