Since then, some strides have been made, as the Blue Tigers have produced a few eye-catching results, and made their way up the FIFA rankings as well. Most importantly, India were one of the teams that were present among Asia's best in the UAE at the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.
In September 2019, India produced one of their greatest results in recent times, holding Asian champions Qatar to a 0-0 draw in their own backyard at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.
However, with five games played in Round 2 of World Cup qualifying, India have managed only three points, with draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan adding points to the one earned in Doha.
Head Coach Igor Stimac has been vocal about how the league structure and the composition of ISL clubs have not lent itself very well to a strong national team in certain positions, and that is where the country's top-tier league needs to be of more use to the national team.
With five foreigners allowed in the playing XI at all times in the ISL, spots for the Indians are at a premium, especially in certain key positions, such as center-forward.
Can an Indian striker light up the ISL?
With two games played in the ISL so far, the central striker for all four teams that have featured has been a foreigner, which is the position where Stimac's concern lies.
ISL clubs are built to succeed, and a foreign option to head their attack gives them a better chance of doing that at this stage.
Stimac has tried different combinations of strikers up-front, with his preferred line of attack being Manvir Singh starting alongside Sunil Chhetri.
Last season in the ISL, only three Indians featured among the top 20 goal-scorers in the league. As he been the norm in the last few years, Chhetri was again the highest Indian goal-scorer with nine goals. Lallianzuala Chhangte, who scored seven times, and Jackichand Singh with five goals, were the only other Indians near the top of the list.
In terms of the squad compositions, nothing has changed this year either, so where does the game time come from for the Indian National Team hopefuls?
Maybe, there is an opening for a couple of them at East Bengal. Out of the six foreigners the Red and Gold Brigade have signed, none of them is a recognized striker.
With Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh in their ranks, Robbie Fowler could be relying on his Indian striker to provide him with the goals.
But a look at both of those players' recent track record doesn't paint an encouraging picture. Jeje has missed a whole season of football with a knee problem, and could take some time to get up to speed.
Even though Balwant was ready and available for ATK in the last two ISL seasons, he scored only two goals in his time with the club. Last season, his game-time shriveled due to the club having the likes of Roy Krishna and David Williams above him.
This season, Manvir plays that role for ATK Mohun Bagan, as he tries to displace Williams or Krishna for a spot in the starting XI. In the ISL opener against Kerala Blasters, Manvir came on and produced an impactful performance as a substitute, but with the track record and the partnership that Krishna and Williams have, how many starts with Manvir get?
The problem is similar for Indian strikers across the ISL. In some cases, like that of Farukh Choudhary, he is being played as a wide attackers, which is also what has happened to the likes of Ashique Kuruniyan, who has played up top for India, including in the AFC Asian Cup.
The ISL has done well so far in raising the bar for the Indian players in terms of fitness and professionalism, but Stimac needs one of the teams in the league to put faith in an Indian striker other than Chhetri, and for that striker to be near the top of the goal-scoring charts.Published 22 Nov 2020, 18:38 IST