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2012 AFC Challenge Cup lessons for India

The 2012 AFC Challenge Cup ended in disaster for Team India in neighbouring Nepal as the Bhangra Boys could not score a goal, conceded eight of them and went home as the bottom-placed team in the group with no point to its name behind North Korea, the ...

The 2012 AFC Challenge Cup ended in disaster for Team India in neighbouring Nepal as the Bhangra Boys could not score a goal, conceded eight of them and went home as the bottom-placed team in the group with no point to its name behind North Korea, the Philippines and Tajikistan.

There were a lot of expectations and hope from the fans regarding the team going into the tournament, but I honestly was skeptical if India would be able to cross the group stage having been drawn in the tournaments ‘Group of Death’. Sadly I was proven right, but now the AIFF especially the National Teams department along with Technical Director Rob Baan need to analyse what went wrong in Kathmandu and avoid similar mistakes or situations in the future.

But what are these points?

Host the tournament
The AIFF under pressure from Bob Houghton put forward its name to host the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup. Accordingly Bob prepared the team, the 2007 Nehru Cup was part of his plans, and the rest as most of you will know is history. The AIFF now needs to plan to qualify for the 2014 edition and then put forward its name as potential hosts, then another fact is that India is a different side when playing at home or abroad. At home we are a potent force, outside the country we haven’t won a competitive match in a while.

National Coach needs to be Foreign
If one of looks at the history of Team India coaches over the last decade, then only two of them had long-term stints and they were Englishmen Stephen Constantine (2002-05) and Bob Houghton (2006-2011) with in-between stop-gap coaches in Sukhvinder Singh, Syed Nayeemuddin, Armando Colaco and now if his contract is not renewed Savio Medeira. The AIFF should scout for a suitable foreign coach, who can rebuild Team India after the generation of Baichung’s, Renedy’s, Mahesh’s, Climax’s, etc is gone.

Players of Indian Origin
The example of the Philippines shows if a proper search is conducted, the federation does everything to show the players of origin that they are wanted then they bring the results. Other nations do it as well like many countries in Africa, who bring back talent from Europe, even the USA and some Asian sides like our neighbours Pakistan have so strengthened their national team.
But for the AIFF to be able to play Players of Indian Origin in Team India the legislations need to be changed as per Government of India rules only Indian passport holders can represent the country. But that might be a task for AIFF president Praful Patel, who is also a Union Minister, to look into.

Younger Generation
The younger generation needs time to adopt to the higher levels of international football. That has been clearly visible in the friendlies and the AFC Challenge Cup. Though some have years of experience at the international youth level this has been a big step upwards. Also playing good in the I-League is simply not a criteria then at the international level more will be needed, which the national coach needs to realise and recognise. Also the new team leaders in Sunil Chhetri, Syed Rahim Nabi and Gouramangi Singh also need to show the way.

Preparations
Though Dubai camps worked quite well under Bob Houghton the overall preparations for the AFC Challenge Cup this time around in Nepal was not enough. Further too many players were persisted with who were not fit or who did not regain fitness.
The AFC Challenge Cup is the chance for India to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup, the only real route to the continental championships. And that needs to be planed in such a way that India not only takes part but has a chance to win the tournament to qualify.

Maybe someone in the AIFF is reading this…

Published with permission from Arunava Chaudhuri.

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