Sportskeeda looks at the five talking points from India’s 2-4 defeat to Palestine on Wednesday evening in Kochi.
1. India still not used to FIFA Friendlies
The trend worldwide for national teams is to play international friendlies on FIFA match dates, with players only reporting for international duty just 72 hours before any match. Thus, teams only get to have a maximum of two training sessions together. India are not used to playing international matches with so little preparation, as they only played one such game in the whole of 2012 which they lost 2-0 against Singapore. Clearly, FIFA friendlies are the way forward as good results there can improve their FIFA ranking, and India coach Wim Koevermans has been vocal about playing them regularly, but Wednesday’s performance was proof of the fact that the Indian team haven’t still got used to the quick transition from domestic to international football. While newcomers like Arata Izumi and Alwyn George took time to settle yesterday, the physical level of many players also dropped in the second half. The only solution is playing such international friendlies regularly, but India are not scheduled to play another until September. India can’t expect their FIFA ranking of 166 to improve if they only play two or three friendlies on FIFA match dates every year, thus AIFF must take this issue seriously.
2. Koevermans has his work cut out for AFC Challenge Cup 2014
Although India were beaten by a team placed 14 spots above them in the FIFA rankings, the fact remains that they lost at home to a second-string side of a nation that they might have to beat to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup. Palestine will be one of the main contenders for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, the winner of which will progress to Australia 2015, besides hosts Maldives, Philippines, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Barring Maldives, all those teams and India still have to qualify for the Challenge Cup of course, but Koevermans and his coaching staff will be well aware of the fact that if his team performs the way they did in the second half against Palestine, then they will repeat a group stage exit like in the 2012 edition. The gap between India and the elite of Asia is increasing everyday, and they cannot let that happen with the emerging nations of the continent also. On paper, if India plays to their full potential they have it in them to beat those contenders, including Palestine, who may not have all their foreign-based players available for the tournament as it won’t be on FIFA matchdays. But it’s up to Koevermans and his coaching staff to make the right calls and get the best out of Team India.
3. Club woes not helping key players
Sportskeeda had discussed this concern two weeks back, and it proved to be true yesterday. Sunil Chhetri hasn’t been playing at all for Sporting Lisbon ‘B’ while Syed Rahim Nabi’s club Mohun Bagan have only recently resumed I-League action after being banned. It affected their performance yesterday, as Sunil failed to complete 90 minutes for the second straight game and Nabi made mistakes and physically didn’t look sharp despite scoring. Out of form Subrata Pal was dropped to the bench, but strangely Raju Gaikwad, a defender who has not been a regular for his club East Bengal, started and looked off-colour. India will have a preparatory camp in Pune before next month’s AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, but a warm-up game is also needed, especially for those key players who haven’t been playing regularly for their clubs. Koevermans will also be hoping that the likes of Gouramangi Singh and Subrata Pal also regain their form at the club level, while it remains to be seen how long skipper Sunil is willing to remain as an unused substitute at Sporting Lisbon ‘B’, as it is certainly not helping India’s cause.
4. In-form young players must be in the national team
Considering the gulf between Indian football and international football, the inclusion of some of the out-of-form experienced internationals was justified. However, the decision to overlook some of the in-form I-League players wasn’t. While East Bengal duo Arnab Mondal and Lalrindika Ralte were only included in the standbys list, Churchill Brothers center-back Dharmaraj Ravanan, Pune FC striker Subhash Singh and East Bengal’s ‘Mr. Versatile’ Harmanjot Singh Khabra were excluded completely. All five of those players are below the age of 25 and could become important players in the national team if they are given the international exposure they deserve now. Otherwise, if some of them are rewarded for their fine form straight away in an important competition, then they might struggle to make an instant impact. The international friendly was the perfect opportunity to include some of those names, but having missed out on that, Koevermans must make the necessary changes in the Pune camp so that the in-form men get used to the current national setup and eventually show what they are capable of in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in Myanmar.
5. Inclusion of Sandip Nandy a step backwards
Sandip Nandy was rewarded for his fine club form at Churchill Brothers with a call-up to the squad, and eventually started the game. Subrata Pal was rightly dropped to the bench, but Sandip is 38 now, and with India’s ultimate aim being qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup, where the Churchill custodian will be 40, maybe it was a step backwards. Karanjit Singh possibly would have started had he not got injured, but the concern will be that someone like Subhashish Roychowdhury didn’t get any gametime again. Imagine a situation in Australia 2015, when Subhashish has to play against a team like Japan having not played any international match in the last two years. And that is very well possible, because the Dempo goalkeeper has unfortunately managed just four international caps despite being part of the national team for the last six-seven years. Form-wise, even Arjuna Awardee Deepak Mondal merited a place in the national team, but it made more sense to have 26-year-old Denzil Franco get his fifth cap and some much-needed international exposure with 22-year-old Nirmal Chettri on the bench. Similarly, instead of calling up Sandip, who has been one of the best Indian goalkeepers in the last decade, someone younger should have been included for this international friendly.Published 07 Feb 2013, 20:29 IST