'It's good that India have to play more official matches under new FIFA ELO Rankings,' says Sunil Chhetri
India have witnessed a phenomenal rise in its FIFA ranking since 2016, and have gone from 173 two years back to 97 in the latest rankings. This higher ranking was achieved not only with the help of good results in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers (in which India topped their group) but also through friendlies arranged against higher ranked opponents.
Now, however, all that is set to change, after FIFA announced a new system of rankings that will give more importance to competitive matches, rather than friendlies.
Over the last couple of years, India have played a number of friendlies, and friendly tournaments like the Tri-Nation Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, both of which the Blue Tigers managed to win.
Hence, according to the new ELO Ranking system, the Blue Tigers are likely to fall from their current 97th spot.
India captain Sunil Chhetris, fresh from his side's Intercontinental Cup victory, believes that the new ELO rankings will be a welcome change for his side, as they will have to play more official international matches instead of friendly tournaments.
"It’s all right. That’s not something to be too bothered about," Chhetri told Sportskeeda on the sidelines of an event organised by Kia Motors, where the Indian football team and Bengaluru FC captain selected two kids to be the official match ball carriers at the FIFA World Cup, in Russia.
"I personally am not too bothered about the rankings anyway. It’s a good thing, now that we have to play (more) official games," he further said.
The Asian Games conundrum
With the Intercontinental Cup over, India's next target will be playing in the Asian Games. However, there is some doubt surrounding the national team's participation, as the Indian Olympic Association has stated that it will only send teams that are in the top eight in their respective sports in Asia.
India currently being ranked 97, do not make the cut.
However, India have seen a massive upsurge in their performances in the last couple of years, something that could well turne this decision in their favour, despite the fact that they are ranked 14th in Asia. These performances have led to a debate about whether the Blue Tigers should go for the Asian Games.
"I just hope that we do get the opportunity. Hope that the U-23 team goes and competes there," said Chhetri. "I just want them to improve. Of course, we haven’t done great in the Asian Games, so it's very important for the kids to go and play there. So I just hope that we get an opportunity."
While the majority of the Indian squad is set to be under the age of 23, the tournament authorities do allow three senior players on the roster. However, Chhetri played down talks about him making the team of the Asiad, saying that the tournament will be more about the U-23 players, rather than the three seniors.
"It’s not my call (whether I will play in the Asian Games. It's not about the three seniors. It's more about the U-23 team," he said.
As of now, India's biggest target will remain the AFC Asian Cup in January, where they face the likes of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Thailand in Group A. While the Intercontinental Cup served as a good preparation for the Asian Cup, it will be interesting to see whether a few more new faces come into the reckoning, if India do manage to make it to the Asian Games later this year.