‘Could well be the last time we’re meeting’: Igor Stimac to shattered India players

Igor Stimac with his players in training session
Igor Stimac with his players in training session (PC: AIFF/X)

I have known Igor Stimac well for a while now, having done a number of interviews with him as well. He always speaks his mind and is someone who looks at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Last night was different. Stimac sounded lost, like someone who was on the verge of a meltdown. Angry, frustrated, disappointed and upset – all rolled into one. He had just finished the press conference, and we had a fairly detailed chat on what had transpired. Excerpts from the conversation:

Boria: Your first reaction to what happened. For us, it was day lightrobbery. Clearly not how sport should be played.

Stimac: I said the same in the press conference, you know. That what happened was shameful, and FIFA needs to take cognizance of this and make sure it is not repeated ever again. No country should have to face this. We played the best football we have in a long time, and I was very confident we were winning this. The boys were hugely confident and we had complete control of the game when it happened. I asked Gurpreet [Singh Sandhu] and he said the same to me. He said he had given up because the whole ball was out and was about to pick it up when a player pushed it back and someone else scored. It was just unbelievable.

Boria: Clearly, you have spoken to the boys in the change room. Can you please tell me what they are going through at this point?

Stimac: It is unbelievable. None of them can believe what happened, and how it happened. They are all in shock. Some of them were in tears, and couldn’t come to terms with it. They had given it their all. I said to them I am proud of the way they fought. Proud of the way they played. Many will say Qatar was fielding a young team. Let me tell them our boys are not much older either. That’s why I think India is ready to play some quality football and compete at the Asian level going forward, and should not have been robbed like this of a place in the third round. This was unfair on every one of us.

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Qatar vs India and Igor Stimac
Qatar vs India and Igor Stimac (PC: AIFF)

Boria: I spoke to Sandesh, and he said to me he is in shock. And also said he is proud of the way the boys played despite what happened.

Stimac: I agree with him. He is absolutely right in saying this. I mean, there has to be some semblance of spirit of fair play associated with the sport. It wasn’t to be. I have never seen this in my long career in football. And it is not about me, you know. It is about the boys and what they must be feeling. They had given it their all. They deserved better. The fans deserved better. You all deserve better, and we wanted to give you a night to remember. Instead, we get this from the referee.

Boria: You had said if you failed to make the third round, you will resign and go. Clearly, you hadn’t anticipated this. Today, you or your team did not lose. The sport has lost. Have you spoken to the boys about this?

Stimac: I told the boys it could well be the last time we are meeting. But, you know what, the boys need protection and it is not me who can give them protection. We need to sit down with the officials, and see what can be done. Over the next couple of weeks, I am sure we will do these meetings and take the call. But I have to say this to you very clearly – India did not deserve to lose. And if Qatar, which is a football powerhouse, plays their football like this, the future isn’t too bright for Qatar football either. 

In sport, everyone is taught to respect the spirit of fair play. What we have seen tonight is far from it. It wasn’t football at the end of the day. We all know it. But coming to your question, let me speak to the Federation officials and figure out what’s the best way forward. I can’t think of anything right now and need to take care of my boys. 

Also Read: Controversial Goal Ends Team India’s World Cup Dreams as Qatar Triumphs 2-1