A Heartbreaking End to a Promising Campaign: What Next for India Football after AFC Asian Cup?
If the AFC Asian Cup was the stepping stone for India to make a mark on global football, then one can say that the start has been promising. Considered by many as the sleeping giant of football, India are yet to achieve anything significant in the game. While the craze and the passion for football in this country of billions are unparalleled, the country has very little to show for regarding achievement. The advent of Indian Super League has brought a welcome change in the attitude of the players. The opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names of yesteryear have given India’s players an opportunity to assess where they stand.
The following video showing DW Kick off! Expert Kres Harrington travelling to Kerala pretty much shows how obsessed the fans are with this beautiful game.
The continental championship was the perfect stage for the aspiring Indian players, itching to make a name for themselves, to show their credentials. The tournament saw India returning to the Asian Cup after a long time with the hope of improving their dismal record. Since the AFC Asian Cup was founded in 1956, India managed to qualify only on four occasions – 1964, 1984, 2011, and the 2019 edition. India made a grand entry to the competition and finished runners-up in 1964 which is still their best finish till date. the country had to wait 20 years to qualify for the finals again, but it was a tournament to forget. India lost three games and held Iran to a goalless draw to come away with a just a point in 1984.
It then took India another 27 years to make it to the competition again when they qualified for the 2011 edition. However, India failed to make a mark again and lost all three of their group games to get dumped out of the tournament without any points on the board. They conceded 13 goals in three games and managed to score just three.
But the history and speculations went for a toss as India made a grand entry to the tournament, dismantling Thailand 4-1. The sight of Sunil Chhetri, Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua tearing apart the Thai defence was the one to remember for years to come. But the promising start soon turned into despair with narrow defeats against hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. From sitting at the top of the table to finishing bottom in their group, India’s fortunes changed in the blink of an eye.
The dust is now settling in on India’s heartbreaking group-stage exit, and it is high time to assess their performance and see what is next in line for Indian football. The jury will be out on Stephen Constantine’s tactics and team selection.
India showed a lot of promise throughout, but their lack of experience in international football cost them, dear. The only way to solve this issue is to play as many friendlies as possible. The Blue Tigers’ use of international breaks in recent years has been poor. The senior team played only eight games in the last year. India should ensure playing as many friendlies as possible during international breaks. They should also make sure that they play against higher-ranked teams. Of the eight games in 2018, Kyrgyzstan (in Asian Cup qualification) and China (friendly) are the only teams who were above India in the rankings.
Fitness is another concern for the Blue Tigers. While the current side is definitely better than the past teams, there is still a long way to go before Chhetri & Co. challenge the top teams in terms of fitness. Chhetri’s comments after the defeat against Bahrain proves that India’s players are still not ready to play high-intensity games.
“We weren’t (going for a draw). It was in the back of the mind though. As the game went by, around 70-75 minutes, the thought was to keep it like that and so we defended deeper,” Chhetri had said.
Another challenge for India will be to appoint the right man after Constantine’s tearful resignation. The current lot is talented enough to make a mark but need the right man to mould them into a formidable unit. India just does not have the luxury of affording another disastrous period that followed after the end of the Bob Houghton era in 2011. Houghton was shown the door after India’s woeful outing in the 2011 Asian Cup.
He was replaced by Armando Colaco as interim head coach. During Colaco’s tenure, India had registered a monumental win over Qatar in an unofficial friendly, but his stint was cut short by the AIFF after the team’s loss to UAE in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Former assistant coach Savio Madeira was eventually appointed as the India coach with Dutchman Rob Baan being brought in as the technical director.
Madeira guided the team to the 2011 SAFF Championship but failed miserably in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup held. India crashed out of the competition after losing all the three games and without scoring another. AIFF then pinned their hopes in Dutch coach Wim Koevermans, but it turned out to be a disaster. India’s FIFA rankings plummeted to 173 as they performed disastrously in the 2013 SAFF Cup as well as the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. Koevermans was finally sacked after India performed miserably in the 2014 Asian Games.
India must learn their lessons from recent years and appoint the right man who can take this team to unprecedented heights with the current talented lot.
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