It is a game Indians discuss mostly when the best are playing and it’s beamed live. The football played in the country or by Indians is not worth cherishing, because the standards are so low compared to what the television audience has got used to thanks to Champions League, World Cup, etc. Not many can even name a current Indian footballer except Sunil Chhetri and a handful of others. It is because of this that the national team’s appearance in the Asian Cup was significant. It was an opportunity to assess where we stand in the continent and how far we are from the top four countries that represent Asia in the World Cup.
While one win, two defeats, last place in the group and a first-round exit clearly indicate there are miles to go, it is worth remembering that the Indians were a few seconds away from a draw in the last game. A draw would have taken them to the knockouts for the first time. They were the only team in the tournament to finish at the bottom of a group despite winning a match. They were tough opponents against quality teams, showing a mix of application and spunk, with a fair display of tactical acumen. Four goals scored and conceded was an improvement from their last appearance in 2011, when they lost three games and let in 13 goals.
This was the result of an effort made over the last few years. It was evident in outgoing coach Stephen Constantine’s methods and the way he chose opponents for friendlies. It is important to ensure that the process isn’t disrupted. This will start with the selection of a coach for the national team. Another crucial aspect will be supporting a strong national league from where players can be spotted and honed. The U-17 football World Cup held in India in 2017 did give youngsters a platform to showcase their talent but nurturing them is necessary. After a long time, Indian football has seen a flicker of hope. Let’s not disrupt the momentum.