The Indian national team are fresh off producing a monumental 0-0 draw against Asian champions Qatar in a 2022 World Cup qualifier last Tuesday.
The result, arguably the greatest in Indian football history, stood out by the fact that the Blue Tigers withstood an attack which has failed to score past only footballing elites like Brazil, Colombia and Argentina this year.
In fact, no Asian team has managed to even hold Qatar this year.
However, another factor which came to the fore was the fitness of the Indian players. While they could not demonstrate the same against Oman effectively, having failed to conserve their energy levels as and when required.
But against Qatar, it was a lesson learnt and executed well. India never looked tired or fatigued, even late on in the second half. They also had the legs to orchestrate counter-attacks when the opportunity presented itself.
Much of that improvement is down to coach Igor Stimac and the fitness revolution he has been leading. One of the key aspects of the same is the Croatian's insistence on bringing down the body fat percentage in the players.
“Careful management of the body-fat percentage is an absolute requirement when you want to play football at the highest level," Stimac told Goal.
Stimac has been aided by highly rated fitness specialist and compatriot Luka Radman in this regard and the results are already starting to show. Radman was a professional Olympic weightlifter himself and has worked with top sporting teams like the Croatian National Team in the 1998 World Cup (where they earned the third place), the Croatian Men's Basketball Team (silver medal) in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, the Croatian Men's water polo team (silver medal) in the 1999 European Championship, amongst others.
"Careful management of the body-fat percentage is an absolute requirement when you want to play football at the highest level," he explained while mentioning that top athletes in Europe and elsewhere all monitor their body-fat percentage meticulously.
The 52-year-old also revealed that many in the Indian team had high body-fat percentage and he and his team has had to work with them to bring this to an acceptable level.
"Now, the team’s levels have been reduced to between five to eight per cent, so we are getting there. When I came here, for example Gurpreet Singh’s body-fat per cent was around 14 but now he's below eight. Sarthak Golui was around the 12.5 level, even Pritam Kotal. There are several more such examples. However, now all players' body fat percentage is below eight.”
"When we first came and did the tests, most of the players were above the acceptable levels."
However, the revolution the former Croatia national team coach has stirred up is paying dividends, handsomely so.