India's Croatian coach Igor Stimac looks on before the 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifiers football match between Qatar and India at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on June 11, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: India's football federation has accused Igor Stimac of using an astrologer to pick players after sacking him as coach following their World Cup qualifying failure.

The former West Ham and Croatian international defender had a turbulent relationship with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) during his five years in charge.

Defeat to Qatar earlier this month ended India's dreams of reaching the third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup and his contract was terminated last week.

The 56-year-old Stimac, in his final press conference, said he had heart surgery because of stress and battled 'lies' and people with 'private interests' during his tenure.

The AIFF responded late Monday, saying Stimac had damaged the national association with 'negative statements'.

"Mr. Stimac's communication - apparently made with the sole intent of maligning the AIFF and showing its personnel in poor light - is not befitting of a professional who has served the organisation for over five years," it said in a statement.

"This conduct has only reinforced the AIFF's belief that the right decision was made, with just cause, to terminate his contract."

Stimac, who played a World Cup semi-final for Croatia in 1998, became India coach in 2019 and they briefly broke into the top 100 of FIFA's world rankings for only the second time in nearly three decades.

His tenure was though marked by controversy.

A media report in 2023 said he used an astrologer to pick his India teams, a claim at the time Stimac called a 'disgrace'.

But the AIFF's statement said it had been "shocked to note his dependence on an astrologer to determine player's call-ups (and) team selections", before stepping in to stop it.

Stimac took India to the Asian Cup at the start of this year, where they lost all three games.

India, who were once called 'a sleeping giant' of the sport by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, are ranked 124th in the world.