Is Indian football really on the rise?
It is every Indian football fan's dream to hear the Indian national anthem at the World Cup at least once in their lifetime. The dream which currently seems distant was revived with fresh hope earlier this month when the Indian national football team took on Chinese Taipei, Kenya and New Zealand in the Intercontinental Cup.
The Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri's plea to the fans to come out and support the Blue Tigers at the stadium was viewed as a revolution that would change Indian football's entire course of action. The Indian team didn't disappoint its fans and won the Intercontinental Cup after defeating Kenya by 2-0 in the final.
The tournament saw the Indian skipper become a talisman for his team as he bagged 8 goals in 4 matches and equalled Lionel Messi's tally of 64 international goals.
The Indian national football team is currently ranked 97th in the FIFA world rankings ahead of the likes of North Korea, Thailand and New Zealand. Does this mean that the Indian football team is better than the aforementioned national teams?
On paper Indian team is surely better but in reality, these teams are far ahead. Let us move 3 years back to 2015 when the Indian team was ranked 173rd. In June of 2015, the Asian qualifiers for 2018 FIFA World Cup had started, India was grouped with Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Guam in the second round.
The Indian team could manage only one win against Guam and ended the qualification campaign at the bottom of the table with just 3 points from 8 games. In June 2016 India started their golden streak of winning 8 matches with a 1-0 win over Laos in the Asian Cup qualifier.
From this point, the ranking started to improve as India went on to beat Laos again, Puerto Rico, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius in the following matches. India maintained their unbeaten streak till earlier this year when they lost 2-1 to Kyrgyzstan.
At the same time, Asian teams like Thailand and North Korea were playing against tougher opponents like South Korea, Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia. Their rankings dropped as they couldn't manage to upset the Asian football powerhouses and that's where the deception of FIFA world rankings began.
FIFA has always been criticized for their ranking methodology as it enables teams to improve their ranking by playing relatively weaker opponents and get a higher seed at tournament draws. That's exactly what has happened in this case as India went on to play against weaker opponents since 2016 and created a deception of improvement.
In order to get a better perspective of India's position in the world, the Elo rating must be referred which takes various football-specific variables into account, like the margin of victory, the importance of a match, and home-field advantage. The Elo ratings highlight the bitter truth of Indian football team's actual position as it is currently ranked 159th in the world. The FIFA ranking system is also set to be updated following the 2018 World Cup and the calculation method will be closely related to the Elo rating system
I hope the All India Football Federation takes this change in rankings system into account and schedules some friendly matches against higher ranked opponents in order to give our players more exposure before the AFC Asian Cup next year in United Arab Emirates.
Do you think India can qualify for World Cup 2022? Tell us in the comments below!