How has India fared in Asian football tournaments?
It is the dream of every Indian football fan to see their country at the biggest tournament on earth — the FIFA World Cup. But, the cricket crazy nation has failed in its quest except on one occasion in 1950 where the team qualified, but the Federation withdrew them citing financial reasons. In 2007, the then FIFA president Sepp Blatter summed up the state of Indian football the best when he called India a 'sleeping giant' of football.
But, things are changing since the start of the Indian Super League in 2014, a joint collaboration by IMG-Reliance, Star Sports and the All India Football Federation. The tournament has had its fair share of criticism for being too extravagant and glamorous at times, with celebrities preferred over players for the club's marketing or the unnecessary opening ceremonies before the start of every season.
Despite all this, the ISL is slowly moving in the right direction, firstly reducing the foreign player quota in each squad from 8 last season to 7 for the upcoming season - the number was as high as 11 in the inaugural season, and secondly doing away with the domestic player draft as well.
Even the opening ceremony is set to be scrapped for the coming season thankfully. The ISL has also achieved something the I-League couldn't, bringing the game to various parts of the country and increasing the exposure of football to the nation. The successful hosting of the FIFA u-17 World Cup last year has also helped in this regard.
Before Indian fans can start dreaming about World Cups, it is imperative that the Blue Tigers conquer Asia.
Let's take a look at the performance of India in the various continental tournaments:
1. South Asian Federation Football Championship (SAFF)
This is the only tournament where India has exerted her dominance, winning 7 out of the 11 editions so far. They have failed to reach the final only once in 2003, losing to hosts and eventual winners Bangladesh in the semi-finals.
India will hope to add another SAFF title to their kitty when they face the Maldives in 2018 edition's final on Saturday.
2. AFC Asian Cup
In contrast to the SAFF tournament, India has not performed up to the mark in the AFC Asian Cup — the second oldest continental football tournament in the world. India has qualified for just 3 out of the 16 editions of the biggest tournament in Asia.
India did finish runners-up in one of those appearances in 1964 although the number of teams participating in the tournament was just 4! The most recent qualification to the AFC Asian Cup came in 2011 by winning the defunct AFC Challenge Cup in 2008. But alas, India finished bottom of their group, losing all their games in the group stages.
3. AFC u-23 Championships
A relatively new tournament started in 2014 and just 3 editions old, India has not managed to qualify for this tournament yet.
4. AFC u-19 Championships
The tournament has completed a massive 39 editions, and India has taken part in 22 of them, even managing to win the 1974 tournament in Thailand as joint champions along with Iran. The team has also reached the quarterfinals on 5 occasions, in 1966, 1967, 1971, 1977 and 2002 editions.
India's last appearance in the competition remains as 2006 when they were the hosts, after failing to qualify for this year's tournament in Indonesia.
5. Asian Games
Out of the 18 editions, India has managed to win 2 golds and 1 bronze. In fact, India won the first ever Asian Games gold medal in football in 1951 and followed it up with another gold and bronze in 1962 and 1970 respectively. Sadly, there have been no more medals at the games since.
Another blow was the decision of the Indian Olympic Association to not grant clearance to the team to take part in the 2018 Asian games. This meant it was India's first absence at the games since 1994, depriving the Indian players of competitive international exposure.
It is safe to say that India is the dominant force in South East Asia, but given their performances in other Asian tournaments, there is still a long way to go to achieve the goal of World Cup qualification.
However, India is back in the Asian Cup for the 2019 edition having qualified for the expanded 24 team tournament in the UAE, and football fanatics across the country will no doubt be hoping for better performances from the Blue Tigers this time around.
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 17:45 IST