Igor Stimac, head coach of India, gives instruction to his team )(Getty Images)
Igor Stimac, head coach of India, gives instruction to his team )(Getty Images)

Indian football in 2019: Time for the ‘sleeping giant’ to rebuild once again

From national team set-up to domestic tournaments, there have been changes galore in recent years but the so-called ‘sleeping giant’ has not managed to find a permanent place in the top 100 of the FIFA world rankings.
By Sayan Ghosh | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 31, 2019 12:09 PM IST

Back in 2006, then FIFA President Sepp Blatter described India as a ‘sleeping giant’ in the world of football. Thirteen years later, the current head coach of the Indian football team — Igor Stimac — decided to use the same phrase once again to make the point that the country has the potential to produce good talent. This is a major indication of the pace of development when it comes to the ‘beautiful game’ in India. From national team set-up to domestic tournaments, there have been changes galore in recent years but the so-called ‘sleeping giant’ has not managed to find a permanent place in the top 100 of the FIFA world rankings.

The year 2019 started on the best possible note for Sunil Chettri & Co as they defeated Thailand 4-1 in their opening match of AFC Asian Cup. The victory was a huge statement by a young team under the tutelage of Stephen Constantine and it made the nation believe that the team can finally reach the knockout stages of the competition. However, a slew of missed chances against United Arab Emirates that resulted in a 0-2 defeat and last-minute heartbreak against Bahrain in the final match of the group meant that the Blue Tigers once again had to bid adieu to the continental tournament in the early stages.

“In the match against UAE, we got a couple of clear chances in the first twenty minutes and the match would have been over if we scored. But, we were unlucky to miss all the opportunities and that resulted in some pressure. In the last match (against Bahrain), we went with an extremely defensive approach and that did not work out well for us,” midfielder Anirudh Thapa explained to Hindustan Times.

Right after the match against Bahrain, the team was handed another shock as head coach Stephen Constantine decided to step down from his post. The players were informed of the decision just after the final whistle and it signaled the end of a four-year tenure that saw India breaking into the top 100 for the first time in over two decades. What followed was a long-drawn process to choose his successor and the search finally ended with FIFA World Cup bronze-medalist Igor Stimac taking over the job in May 2019.

Also Read: Shooting a ‘happy headache’, Athletics a worry for India ahead of Tokyo Olympics

The appointment of the former Croatia international was met with a lot of chatter from the experts and fans alike with the expectation that his experience with top teams will be able to change India’s fortunes. However, defence turned out to be the main issue for him in the early days as he started his tenure with a 1-3 loss against Curacao followed by two heavy defeats at the hands of Tajikistan and North Korea. Things did not improve once the World Cup qualifiers started as India squandered their lead against Oman in their first game as they were defeated 1-2 despite putting on a good show.

Next up, India travelled to Doha without their talisman Sunil Chhetri and they were able to survive waves of attacks from Qatar to hold the reigning Asian champions to a goalless draw in one of the most stunning results for Indian football in its history. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu produced a tremendous performance in front of the goal as India became the only side to not lose to Qatar in 2019.

“That was a very big result for India. Especially when we were playing away against the Asian champions and to get a point there is huge. The team were actually quite organised and we have to give them credit for what they achieved,” former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia told Hindustan Times.

The result made the fans hopeful once again but the next round of matches saw India once again squandering easy chances to finish games. Two draws against Afghanistan and Bangladesh followed by a close loss against Oman meant that India finished the year at the bottom of their group and also with no hope of making the cut for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. With just one win from ten matches, it has been a less than ideal start for Stimac and although the likes of Ashique Kuruniyan and Sahal Abdul Samad did justify their selections, the results were just not there for Stimac to show in his first year.

Also Read: India static at 108, but loses 11 places throughout the year in FIFA rankings

“Stephen was defensively more compact and Stimac is more open. It is the decision of individual coaches on how they want to play. But overall, the results are very important for any coach at the end of the day and with Stimac, that has not happened till now,” Bhutia explained.

With three more qualifiers coming up in the first half of 2020 and Stimac announcing that the team will play ten friendlies between March and June, the schedule is packed for the ‘Blue Tigers’ and only time will tell whether the ‘sleeping giants’ can finally get going on the global stage.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah walks past manager Juergen Klopp after being substituted off.(Pool via REUTERS)
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah walks past manager Juergen Klopp after being substituted off.(Pool via REUTERS)

Salah was feeling the intensity, Klopp says after Chelsea defeat

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 01:28 PM IST
Klopp took off Salah, the league's leading scorer with 17 goals, for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 62nd minute when Liverpool were hunting an equaliser after Mason Mount had given Chelsea the lead in the first half.
Close
Barcelona's Gerard Pique.(REUTERS)
Barcelona's Gerard Pique.(REUTERS)

Barcelona defender Piqué out with right knee injury

AP, Barcelona
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 10:27 AM IST
The defender scored four minutes into second-half stoppage time to force extra time and help the team advance to the final.
Close
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min celebrates with Hugo Lloris after the match.(Pool via REUTERS)
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min celebrates with Hugo Lloris after the match.(Pool via REUTERS)

Tottenham edge past Fulham thanks to Adarabioyo own goal

Reuters, London
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 07:53 AM IST
Victory dragged Tottenham back into the race for a Champions League spot with Jose Mourinho's eighth-placed side on 42 points from 26 matches, four points behind Everton in fourth, ahead of Sunday's clash with Crystal Palace.
Close
Chelsea's Mason Mount celebrates scoring their first goal with Reece James.(Pool via REUTERS)
Chelsea's Mason Mount celebrates scoring their first goal with Reece James.(Pool via REUTERS)

Mount goal earns Chelsea victory at toothless Liverpool

Reuters, Liverpool, England
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 07:50 AM IST
Mount cut in to curl a low shot past Liverpool keeper Alisson in the 42nd minute, after Timo Werner had earlier had a goal disallowed, to give Chelsea a deserved halftime lead.
Close
Barcelona's Gerard Pique holds his knee after getting injured during the the Copa del Rey semifinal, second leg, soccer match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday March 3, 2021. (AP)
Barcelona's Gerard Pique holds his knee after getting injured during the the Copa del Rey semifinal, second leg, soccer match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday March 3, 2021. (AP)

Barcelona confirm Pique knee injury

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 09:26 PM IST
Injuries have restricted the 34-year-old to just 15 appearances this season and local media have reported that Pique faces a further three weeks on the sidelines.
Close
Barcelona's head coach Ronald Koeman (AP)
Barcelona's head coach Ronald Koeman (AP)

Koeman transforms Barcelona amid club chaos, elections

AP
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 06:51 PM IST
  • Barcelona faces an even bigger hurdle next week when it visits Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League trailing 4-1 from the first leg. But the team can aspire to keep up its positive momentum in the Spanish league.
Close
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Round of 16 First Leg - RB Leipzig v Liverpool - Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary - February 16, 2021 General view inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo(REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Round of 16 First Leg - RB Leipzig v Liverpool - Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary - February 16, 2021 General view inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo(REUTERS)

Liverpool vs Leipzig Champions League game moved to Budapest again

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 04:18 PM IST
  • The first leg, originally scheduled to be held at the Red Bull Arena in Germany, was shifted to Budapest after German authorities denied Liverpool entry into the country due to Covid-19 protocols.
Close
Manchester United's Luke Shaw, left, and Crystal Palace's Andros Townsend challenge. (AP)
Manchester United's Luke Shaw, left, and Crystal Palace's Andros Townsend challenge. (AP)

Toothless Man United held to goalless draw at Palace

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 01:28 PM IST
It was a third successive 0-0 draw for United after a stalemate at Chelsea on Sunday and against Real Sociedad last Thursday which completed a 4-0 aggregate win over the Spanish side in the Europa League.
Close
Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes.(AP)
Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes.(AP)

United may not release Fernandes for Portugal duty: Solskjaer

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 01:25 PM IST
Fernandes could face 10 days in isolation on his return from international duty because Portugal falls under the United Kingdom's COVID-19 travel 'red list'.
Close
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta Pool via REUTERS/John Walton(Pool via REUTERS)
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta Pool via REUTERS/John Walton(Pool via REUTERS)

Spurs handed advantage ahead of north London derby, says Arsenal boss Arteta

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 01:21 PM IST
Spurs will now host Zagreb in London, while Arsenal will travel to face Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus three days before their derby.
Close
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bumps fists with an assistant referee after the match.(Pool via REUTERS)
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bumps fists with an assistant referee after the match.(Pool via REUTERS)

Toothless Man United held to goalless draw at Palace

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:10 AM IST
Runaway leaders City have 65 points from 27 games and are in a commanding position after second-placed United lacked edge in foggy conditions at Selhurst Park, failing to break down a resolute Palace who had the game's best chances.
Close
Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp: File photo(AP)
Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp: File photo(AP)

Klopp won't allow players to travel if need to quarantine

AP, Liverpool, England
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 11:48 PM IST
Under current coronavirus guidelines, arrivals from countries that Britain regards as high risk are subject to 10 days of hotel confinement.
Close
Paris St Germain's Moise Kean: File photo(REUTERS)
Paris St Germain's Moise Kean: File photo(REUTERS)

PSG striker Kean isolating after testing positive for virus

AP, Paris
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 10:07 PM IST
PSG said that Kean tested positive on Wednesday morning and stayed in Paris while his teammates travelled to Bordeaux for a league game.
Close
Juventus' Weston McKennie(REUTERS)
Juventus' Weston McKennie(REUTERS)

Juventus makes Weston McKennie’s move to Turin permanent

AP, Turin
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 09:34 PM IST
McKennie has been at Juventus since August, after joining on loan from German club Schalke, but the Bianconeri have exercised the option to purchase the player’s full rights.
Close
Mumbai City FC Sergio Lobera(Twitter)
Mumbai City FC Sergio Lobera(Twitter)

Mumbai City FC winning ISL Shield was about being strong mentally: Coach Lobera

By Rutvick Mehta
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 07:48 PM IST
  • In this chat with Hindustan Times, Lobera talks about overcoming the challenges of this unique season and why he doesn’t want to put a limit on how far this Mumbai team can go.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP