Another inactive summer for the Indian national football team
The biggest talking point in the Indian football fraternity at present is the deadlock between AIFF’s commercial partners IMG-Reliance and I-League clubs regarding the availability of players for the proposed IPL-style tournament.
Will the new tournament undermine the I-League? Will I-League clubs release players for football’s IPL? What will the I-League clubs do for the 10 weeks when the new tournament is on? These are some of the popular questions doing the rounds. But there are other issues surrounding the new tournament too, like the provision of a second loan window and the costs of refurbishing the stadiums.
As a result, the Indian national team has become a complete sideshow. In this calendar year, Wim Koevermans’ side has played only one international friendly; a number that is bettered by even the women’s national team.
Since taking charge in July 2012, Koevermans has stressed on playing regular international friendlies and especially on FIFA match dates to both gain international experience and boost the team’s FIFA ranking, which is 146 currently. So far in the Dutchman’s one-year tenure, India have played only two friendlies.
Back in 2011, India played 19 international matches, seven more than world champions Spain. Six of those were friendlies including the needless Caribbean tour just ahead of the start of the new domestic season. So clearly, that year several national team players were overworked, which affected their performances at club level and later on in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, where India crashed out from the group stage.
Last year, the national team didn’t play a single international match in the summer and this year the same has been repeated.
India were supposed to play international friendlies against neighbours Bangladesh and Paksitan at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in June but that eventually got cancelled and no alternative fixture was arranged by the AIFF. Back in November 2012, another international friendly against Yemen was cancelled just six days before kick-off.
Two more friendlies scheduled for September have also been cancelled recently due to the change in schedule of the 2013 SAFF Cup. The AIFF were initially mulling the idea of sending an under-23 team for the SAFF Cup, just like the 2009 edition, and thus set up fixtures with Philippines and Malaysia for September 6 and 10 respectively.
But the Indian FA has eventually decided to field the senior team for the SAFF Cup, which will be held in Nepal, and thus the only friendly that India have scheduled for the remainder of this calendar year is an away fixture against Tajikistan on August 14.
The failure to qualify for the 2014 Challenge Cup after defeat to Myanmar in the final qualifying game back in March showed that India have gone backwards since the 2011 Asian Cup.
So it was very important to find the right response, but the people concerned haven’t taken the matter seriously at all and have allowed another summer to go by without any action.
Several fellow emerging Asian nations and other teams of the continent that are in and around India’s FIFA ranking were in action in June (see table below).
|Singapore||156||Myanmar & Laos|
|Kyrgyzstan||137||Estonia & Moldova|
Note: Palestine, who are ranked 151st, weren’t in action in June but have played four friendlies this year.
Over the years, India have struggled to match the improvements of the majority of Asian nations and if they fail to do the bare minimum of playing regular international friendlies, one can’t expect the sleeping giant to ever wake up.
There is hardly any difference in the standards and football resources of some of the nations mentioned in the table above and India and yet, they have managed some action in the summer. So clearly, arranging for international friendlies isn’t an impossible task.
Football fans all around the country enjoyed the Confederations Cup action last month but given the chance many would also happily watch the Indian national team in action.
There was a great response to the India–Palestine international friendly back in February as it was televised nationwide, and the month of June was another perfect opportunity for AIFF to organise at least one international friendly. It would have aided the national team’s development and also attracted more fans towards Indian football as there is no European football action available at this time of the year.
It was another missed opportunity for Koevermans to improve the national team. Success in the SAFF Cup will be a decent consolation considering the improvement of teams like Afghanistan and Maldives but India need to see the bigger picture and regularly start facing teams from other parts of the continent too, so that they are not found wanting like they did against Myanmar.
In the lead up to the 2011 Asian Cup, AIFF did a decent job of arranging several friendlies, but the same needs to be done every year, irrespective of participation in any major competition.
The new impending tournament could enhance the interest in the domestic game and also improve infrastructure but the priority for the Indian football fraternity is the progress of the senior national team. And that, by all means, should be ensured first, before discussing any other issues.