Close on the heels of their defeat against Tajikistan in an away friendly, the Indian team landed in the Garden City for a camp before they depart for Nepal for the SAFF Cup, scheduled from August 31 to September 11.
When it was hosted in 1997, the Indian team under Syed Nayeemuddin was unstoppable with the likes of Baichung Bhutia and I M Vijayan in great form. They won the tournament easily defeating Maldives 5-1 in the final. India has won the cup six times and are the reigning champions having beaten lowly Afghanistan 4-0 in 2011.
For the 2013 edition, India, ranked 145 on the FIFA list, are in Group A with Bangladesh (153), Pakistan (167) and Nepal (170). Group B consists of Afghanistan (139), Maldives (158), Sri Lanka (170) and Bhutan (207).
As can be seen from the rankings, Afghanistan are placed higher than India.
That’s because the Indian team’s think-tank have been content to playing against lowly sides. Coaches have never advised their AIFF bosses to arrange friendlies against Malaysia, Japan, China or South Korea. Unless the team plays against better sides, their weaknesses can never be identified and addressed.
Also, the schedules of the team have been surprising. For instance, a fortnight-long camp is being organised before the SAFF Cup at the Bangalore Football Stadium, which has a synthetic surface. It can be tough on the players, and by the time the tournament starts they will have injury problems or will be tired, more so as the tournament will be on natural grass. Meanwhile, in a surprising development, the players and coach have been kept out of media’s bounds and the AIFF will only provide press releases.