Indian Football Team has been called a sleeping giant for a long time. It has been believed by anyone who has been part of the system that Indian Football is a treasure trove of talent but it has rarely reflected due to the lack of right structures in place. With World Football growing at a pace faster than ever, it makes the job of Indian Football further challenging to do the catch up and then go beyond them to achieve the ultimate goal, playing in the FIFA World Cup. Former Croatia manager Igor Stimac joined Indian Football Team as head coach in 2019 with a goal of taking the next step although the start of his tenure was not according to the expectation of the fans. Yet, 2023 played a huge role in his vision for the team and also for Indian Football as a whole. India to Host FIFA World Cup 2034? AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey Tells Members About Plan to Co-Host Football WC With Saudi Arabia.

Igor Stimac wanted Indian Football Team to adapt to a progressive style of football. For the execution, it demanded technical skills as well as extreme fitness in maintaining the intensity. Despite glimpses being shown by the team, nothing came collectively and big losses piled up in the three years Stimac has been in charge. India stopped playing a lot of International games in the FIFA window and it looked like there is need for a change. But four good things happened for Indian Football in 2023 which promises for a better future in the coming days. In this article, we will take a look back at them.

1. A Long Season: After a long long time, Indian Senior Men's Football team got a lot of matches to prepare and shine their skills. They played 16 games in total in the FIFA International Window including friendlies, SAFF Championship and the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers. Nothing betters match practice for a team in terms of building cohesion, trying to achieve the same intensity as the International teams ranked higher and adapting to conditions and situations.

2. Playing in the Asian Games 2023: After missing out in the 2018 edition, Indian Football Team has finally been able to participate in the Asian Games 2023. It didn't come easy, but after a lot of toil, it was finally possible for the Indian Football Team to make it to Hangzhou. They also made it out from the group stages although the journey ended in the Round of 16. But the participating gives them invaluable experience to take forward.

3. A Favourable Draw in FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers: Some good performances from the Indian Football Team in 2023 made sure they stayed higher in AFC ranking than Lebanon and got their place in the pot 2 of the FIFA World Cup 2023 Qualifiers Group Stage draw. With it, India were drafted in a group from where they have a realistic chances of qualifying to the next round.

4. Some Positive Results: Nothing betters for a performing group of athletes than victory. Indian Football Team has found some results in their favour in 2023. They have won the Hero Tri Nation series, the Hero Intercontinental Cup and then the SAFF Championship 2023. Although they failed to win the King's Cup, the Merdeka Cup and the Asian Games 2023, they tied with Iraq in regulation time and then made it out of the group stages in Asian Games 2023. They have also started the FIFA World Cup qualifiers well with a win away against Kuwait. AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey Calls Review Meeting With Referees Committee After Spate of Cards, Complaints in ISL.

What's Next For the Indian Football Team?

Igor Stimac and his boys have a big assignment coming in January 2024 in the form of AFC Asian Cup 2023. It is a big competition for them as not only will it provide them with experience, it is also their ultimate test in terms of preparation. It will be followed with the continuation of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers where India has to find opportunities to make sure they make it to the next round. With the improvement in the playing style, stamina and strength, Igor Stimac, who has recently renewed his contract, will definitely look to set a new benchmark for progress. With a successful 2023 behind them, fans can really hope that the upcoming year will bring much better performances from the Indian Football Team.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Dec 29, 2023 09:26 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website