The World Cup 2018 qualifier game between India and Iran saw over 14,000 people turn up at the Kanteerva stadium . Many had travelled from far off places like Kerala, West Bengal and Goa to see the Indian team playing. In their hearts of hearts, most Indian fans were not hoping for a win against the Iranians, but just hoping that the drubbing won’t be so bad. The Indian team lived up to the expectations of the Indian fans with a decent final score board of 0-3 against the Asia’s top ranked Iranian team. But it won hearts with an impressive performance.
The Iranian coach, Carlos Queiroz admitted after the game that, “The way the Indian team played for the first 10 minutes it surprised and confused us. Their aggression levels were high and they played good.” What did the Indian team do, that impressed the Iranians and made the fans look up. The two attempts at the Iranian goal, with one attempt by Captain Sunil Chettri coming very close, clearly indicating that the Indians were better prepared. Stephen Constantine, the head coach of the Indian team said, “I am more than pleased with the fighting spirit and the never-say-die attitude showcased today by the Indian Team.” He added “I don’t want to sit back and defend when we play in India. In India, we will set the rules against whoever we play”,
Is this the face of the new Indian Team? – a team which is hungry, attacking and instilled with a fighting attitude. If it’s true and the way forward , then it’s indeed music to ears of Indian soccer fans.While India may be ranked a low 155 on the FIFA table, the Indian coach feels they deserve a better ranking. But what ails Indian soccer ? Is it the lack of sponsorships, funds, government support or just something else.
In a blunt admission, Stephen Constantine the head coach said, “You need to play games against the very best in the World. These boys didn’t play a competitive game for 3 months and they performed like that today. It was evident that we do have potential, we just need some time and matches”.
But is it possible ? Maybe not. Given the tight schedule of the FIFA calendar which is primarily focused on European and American tournaments, many feel that FIFA may not be able to do more for not just Indian soccer, but also Asian soccer. A concern which has been raised time and again by Asian Football Confederation on several platforms, but the FIFA calendar for the coming years still hasn’t changed much.
Indian coach Stephen Constantine’s opinion was seconded by Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz who told TEHELKA, “Asian countries need to play more football amongst them. Especially now when the Asian region contributes to about 65% of revenues to World football by means of sponsorships and telecast rights, there should be more attention.”
The Asian region which has over 47 countries has been soccer active, but India doesn’t fit in to many of the FIFA or AFC events as the Indian team did not qualify in many of the AFC tournaments in recent years. In addition due to lack of support and coordination, many Asian tournaments have been discontinued by the AFC, reducing more international exposure to the Indian team. Stephen Constantine suggests, “Indian team should look outside the FIFA fold for more games. In six months India has played only six games. It’s not enough.”
Clearly it’s not enough, many feel that the rise of the Indian Super league with 8 teams having foreign players, as well as Indian boys playing together, may raise the level of the games. The playing along with some of the big names develops skills in the in-home talent pool, but it’s a different ball game to play as an Indian team. Stephen Constantine candidly said, “It was the first time that I got together a team for 10 full days ahead of the game against Iran and results were visible, even for the next game against Guam I get the team only 5 days before the match”.
Something that Indian Football administrators will have to sit up and think before Indian soccer bounces back, not ranking but also in performances. Is Praful Patel, the Vice President of the AFC listening ?