I am Obsessed with Taking India to the World Cup: Igor Stimac


Now that the dust has settled on India’s Asian Games participation and we also know the draw for the World Cup 2026 qualifiers, the focus needs to shift to preparation. A failed Asian Games and a poor World Cup qualifying campaign could mean that all the momentum that we now have in Indian football is lost. Frankly, the next eight months are perhaps the most important eight months in the modern history of the game in India. Good results would mean the public support for the game is sustained, and India could well be on the fast track up the FIFA rankings ladder.

The man entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring this is aware of what it entails. He knows the nation will brook no failure, and this is perhaps his best opportunity. He also knows that he needs to convince the authorities to buy into his vision, for only then can the team be best prepared.

Clearly, Igor Stimac is a man on a mission. There is serious public support for him in India at the moment, and yet, it could evaporate in a jiffy if he fails to deliver in Hangzhou and thereafter. Does it bother him, and what is the course he has charted for success? Has he readied his point-by-point vision plan?

Stimac answers it all.

Boria: Now that it is all settled, how are you looking at the challenges ahead? With the draw out, I am sure you have started planning for the months ahead.

Stimac: Let me make a confession. Since the World Cup draw was made public, I have been extremely restless. I am obsessed with the vision of taking India to the World Cup. If you ask me one goal that I now have as coach, I will say it is to take the Indian senior men’s team to the World Cup. I know it is a long journey ahead and we aren’t there yet, but this is my real dream, and I will do everything I can to get closer to the dream.

Boria: Coach, let’s be realistic. We are still not in the top 10 in Asia. We aren’t in the top 80 in the world, so the World Cup is still a fair distance away.

Stimac: Yes, it is, and that’s why I said to you it is my dream. Every human being lives with a certain goal in mind. They pursue that goal with single-minded focus. Whether or not they achieve it, they do their best to get there. My goal, and this has now turned into an obsession of sorts with me, is to take India to the World Cup.

There are two things I need to tell you here. The first is if we want to come close to leading Asian football, and become as good as say Japan, Iran and Saudi (Arabia), then we need to provide our senior national team much more time for work than what these countries do at the moment and invest at least 50 per cent of what they do. Second, if we don’t collectively make sure that the team gets enough time prior to the November FIFA window – The first (WCQ 2026) game away versus Kuwait, and then Qatar at home three days later – we are immediately out of the running. So it is of paramount importance to collectively put our best foot forward in the next three months.

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Also, let me tell you this. To keep our dreams for the Asian Cup alive, we need to look at what our opponents are doing. While I am not considering Australia, I am focussed on Uzbekistan and Syria. As per my knowledge, and I can tell you this for certain, Uzbekistan will have minimum six weeks camp prior to the Asian Cup. Syria still haven’t decided what they will do. It should give you an idea what we need to do.

Boria: I know there are challenges, but if I ask you to list out your goals for me for the next phase of your coaching career in India, what would they be? You can list them in point form for my readers if you like.

Stimac: FIFA (rankings) Top 80, Asia Top 12

WC 2026 3rd round qualification

Apply the Senior National Team Philosophy to the U-19 and U-17 teams.

And I want to do these things by following a few set templates:

  1. Provide senior national team players additional time to work with senior national team coaching staff during the year.
  2. By getting on board additional coaching and support staff for the senior national team.
  3. Performance coach/sports psychologist.
  4. Permanent match analyst.
  5. Use more sports science.

I will also want to engage the AIFF on discussing the idea of excluding foreign players from the I-League.

Finally, we should think of requesting the government to allow Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) to represent India.

These are some of what I am keen on, and will be following in the next phase.

Boria: Lastly, when you say taking India to the World Cup is an obsession, I am sure you know that it will entail a lot of sacrifice for the next eight to ten years.

Stimac: I am prepared for every kind of sacrifice. Listen, if a country which is as passionate for football as India can make it to the pinnacle, can you imagine what it will be like? The Indian fans follow Messi and Modric as Gods. If they have their own stars who play in the World Cup, imagine what it can do to Indian football going ahead. I am ready for every sacrifice and every form of hard work to get there. All we need to do is work as a collective and pursue the ultimate goal.

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