India played their third game of the World Cup Qualifiers (which also counts for qualification to the AFC Cup) against Turkmenistan away from home on 8th October, losing 2-1. Surprised? Not so much, though the team had a much better showing than in the previous game against Iran. This makes it India’s third consecutive loss in the qualifiers, and the team had to end the game with 10 men as Pritam Kotal went off injured and all the subs were used up.
Was the result in itself surprising? Not really. In fact the team had a decent showing compared to the way Iran played them off the park in the previous game, but this just shows the wide gulf in class that exists between India and the other Asian sides. It also goes on to show that all the talk about qualifying for the World Cup was that – talk, and nothing else.
With the way things are going at the moment, Indian Football will continue on its steady declining. Things have to change if the thought of qualifying for the World Cup has to turn into reality. Major changes are needed from top to bottom. For too long has the Indian team run on the shoulders of mercurial talents like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. Football is a team game and our current setup needs a major overhaul. From fitness, to tactics, to game-strategy, grass-roots development, and even player management and the like, all of it needs to be modified and brought up to modern standards. Indian football lacks a cohesive vision and action plan. A plan which needs to exist not only on paper, but has to be implemented in reality.
Calls of sacking the coach only after a few games are something which happens quite often in football, where emotion runs wild and the coach is made the scapegoat for all the wrongs. But under Constantine the team hasn’t shown much promise at all. But then, all the blame cannot lie on the coach either since the standard of the players isn’t of an appropriately high level to challenge at the top level. A revamp is needed. More grassroots level academies are needed where players are trained from a young age. They need to be up to speed with the modern game, both physically as well as mentally. Instead of doing this, the AIFF ended up closing a few of its faculties and academies in the previous year. Talk about regression!
Bringing in a top coach – such as Zico or the like, one with relevant international experience and a vision for the long term – and giving him the appropriate amount of time to settle in and apply his strategies is a must. Investment is essential otherwise the same cycle will keep repeating. The growth of the Welsh Football team which was not even in the top 100 in 2010, to breaking into the top 10 now, could be taken as a blueprint for the future and worked upon.
Essential investment and wise personnel and visionaries are needed to develop the next crop of Indian footballers, with strict rules to stop the age-fudging which happens in National tournaments. If these changes do not happen then qualification for the World Cup will continue to be a distant dream for India.