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2022 World Cup Qualifiers: Improved fitness levels a cause for optimism for India

6:45 AM GMT+4 03/09/2019
Igor Stimac Indian national team
The Croatian head coach has left no stone unturned to improve the fitness levels among the Indian players....

Two tough tests await India in their upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying clashes with the Blue Tigers set to lock horns with Oman and Qatar first up in their Round two campaign.

While the clashes against Oman and the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions will pose a stern test for Igor Stimac’s men, they can take some comfort from the knowledge that the fitness levels of the team have considerably improved since the Croatian’s arrival.

India have been found wanting in the fitness department in recent years with the team’s levels dropping considerably in the second-half of games. This trait was evident in India’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign where they conceded late goals against both hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain before crashing out at the group stage.

Stimac has made no secret of his emphasis on fitness since arriving in the summer to fill the boots of Stephen Constantine and the former Croatia coach’s methods are already starting to pay dividends. Having brought along with him a strength and conditioning coach from Croatia in the form of Luka Radman, Stimac has left no stone unturned to raise fitness levels among the playing personnel.

Radman is not short of experience in his job and has served as the strength and conditioning coach of Croatia’s 1998 World Cup squad as well as the Croatian basketball team in the 1992 World Cup previously among other stints.

The results are already starting to bear fruit for Stimac and Radman with some positive signs shown by the team in their King’s Cup and Intercontinental Cup displays. Bar one disastrous outing against Tajikistan, India have largely been able to maintain their fitness levels through the 90 minutes despite adopting a high intensity approach.

In fact, India’s performances got better in the second-half in several matches across the two tournaments and that can be attributed to the team’s improvement in their fitness levels.

The improved fitness regime has won the stamp of approval from several players as well including the likes of Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal.

“The schedule came from the Professor (Luka Radman), who was very categorical. He highlighted what a player needed to do when he is away from his club, and the national team set-up,” Jhingan had said on the sidelines India’s Intercontinental Cup preparatory camp.

“Now everyone will come back fitter and the coach can work on technical aspects, and on the system, on how we want to play,” Jhingan added.

“Coach Stimac and his support staff had drawn up a schedule for every individual player,” Kotal said on his part.

“It was a kind of an off-season, but we had to deal with it as a kind of pre-season for the camp. The awareness levels were higher.”

The signs, for now, are very positive but Stimac will know that both Oman and Qatar are capable of testing India’s fitness levels to the hilt. Those two clashes will be the true barometer to judge the progress made by Stimac and his staff since their arrival.