The Blue Tigers achieved a ranking of 96 in 2017 which was the side’s best ranking since February 1996 when they had reached 94, the country’s highest FIFA ranking ever.
We take a look at India’s movement in the FIFA rankings since the establishment of the ranking system in December 1992. In the year 1993, India began on the 100th spot in the FIFA Rankings. India were part of the FIFA 1994 United States World Cup qualifiers and a poor showing in the qualifiers saw them slide down in the rankings despite a win in the inaugural SAARC Cup in Lahore. India ended the calendar year with just four wins from eighteen matches which put them on a rank of 109 at the start of 1994.
In 1994, the Indian team played only four matches against Bangladesh, Yemen and Oman which included the lone win over neighbours Bangladesh. This inactive year and unfavourable results saw India’s ranking slum even more as they were ranked No. 121 by the year-end. In comparison to 1994, India was more active in 1995 with the Asian Cup qualifiers and a lot of friendlies. India won twice against Pakistan in the two legs in AFC qualification, in addition to victories over fellow Asian sides Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and just lost thrice in the whole year. This stability saw a small rise in the rankings as they began 1996 on the 120th ranking.
During the course of next two years, India played two sets of qualifiers with the 1998 World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup Preliminary Competition. India failed to qualify for the two competitions as they won just once against the Philippines in the World Cup qualification. In 1997, India competed against Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives for the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup and won the tournament defeating the Maldives in the final with a massive 5-1 win after being undefeated through the group stages. These performances saw a spurt in the position of India on the FIFA Rankings as they ended up on No. 112 at the end of the year 1997.
The year 1998 saw India play only friendlies with fellow Asian countries with three wins from a total of eight matches including matches against Asian heavyweights Japan and Korea DPR. India reached the 110th ranking at the end of the calendar year. In 1999, India’s ranking at the start of the year was 106. India was again involved in World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers but ended up bowing out of both the qualification processes. India won just one match in the Asian Cup qualification defeating Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. India hosted the SAFF Cup in Margao, Goa this year and emerged triumphant after losing just once against the Maldives. They played four International friendlies in Kathmandu and won twice against Pakistan and Maldives.
India began the new millennium back in the 120s in the FIFA rankings as they played just four international matches in 2000. The year 2001 saw them involved in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and the Indian side performed well to finish just one point away from qualification for the next round in a group that involved Brunei, UAE and Yemen. India lost just once against UAE and won 5-0 against Brunei in Bangalore. Despite this impressive performance, India’s ranking continued to fall and they ended up on the 127th spot at the start of 2002.
During the course of the next few years, India’s ranking was maintained in the 120s as India continued to fail in the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers. In 2017, India won the re-started Nehru Cup defeating Syria in the final and a year later, won the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup securing their qualification for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. India retained the Nehru Cup in 2009 beating Syria in the penalties in the final. During this period, the ranking continued to rise and fall as India ended up in the 142nd position in the year 2010.
A couple of coaching changes and huge failures in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and 2012 AFC Challenge Cup saw India’s rankings continue to slump and their failure to qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup and the 2015 AFC Asian Cup saw them reach a low rank of 171 in 2014. This was the lowest India had reached at the end of a year since the rankings system was established.
India appointed former coach Stephen Constantine in 2015 when the FIFA ranking was 171. In February 2015, India reached their lowest ranking – 173 and the Englishman had a huge task on his hand to improve India’s position.
India had a poor World Cup campaign as they won just one match, against Guam failing again in their quest to progress in further rounds of the World Cup qualification. However, Constantine and co moved on from these defeats and kick-started a successful International run. They focused their efforts on qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. India defeated Nepal in the first round of the qualifiers and emerged victorious over Laos in the play-off round securing entry into the final round of the qualifiers.
India was grouped against Macau, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar in the Group A of the Third Round and mounted a successful qualification campaign with 4 wins and one draw ensuring the qualification in the Asian Cup 2019. During the course of these years, India was on a steady rise in the ranking and managed to reach No. 96 in July 2017, marking a jump of 77 rankings from March 2015 (173). India is on an unbeaten run of 13 matches with 11 wins including one in an unofficial match against Bhutan.
India’s current FIFA Ranking is 102, a small dip due to inactivity on the international stage as the action will resume in March as India play the final Asian Cup qualifier away in Kyrgyzstan on 27 March.
India’ ranking history has seen a lot of up and downs but with the recent unbeaten run and increase in the overall quality of football, we can hope the rankings continue and the Blue Tigers reach new heights creating history as they move ahead.