After seven long years the Indian Football team is finally participating in the AFC Asian Cup. The Blue Tigers are up against hosts UAE, Bahrain and Thailand in their group. The AFC Asian Cup is Asia’s biggest football tournament and this year’s edition will be held at the United Arab Emirates from January 5 to February 1.
India last participated in this tournament in 2011, where they suffered a heavy defeat. Their opponents at the time were, Australia, Korea Republic and Bahrain. The team missed out on a berth in 2015 but have finally made it to the 2019 edition.
“[Back then] we had never been on such a big stage and it didn’t help to face Australia, Korea and Bahrain; we gave our best but I think we were a bit overwhelmed,” Indian captain Sunil Chhetri told the-afc.com.
“If we compare ourselves with the other Asian countries then we fall short, but if we compare with what we were 15 years back then I think we have made huge strides. “But because we’re chasing the bigger teams, we can’t be happy or satisfied, we have to keep our heads down and keep improving,” he added. Indeed times have changed with the rise of Indian football making great strides in the world domain. With the birth of the Indian Super League which has attracted the interests of many global superstars, the rise in the level of play has been observed. But the preparations leading to the Asian Cup has been rather paltry.
Prior to the Asian Cup, the Indian contingent played only two practice matches. The first match against China was a creditable 0-0 draw while the second against Jordan was a 1-2 loss away from home. The Jordan loss was marred by controversy with players arriving at Jordan in the last moment.
Statistically, India is among the bottom three teams out of the 24 that are participating at the Asian Cup that have played the least number of friendlies; tied with Yemen (two) and Turkmenistan(zero). India did, however, participate in the regional South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Bangladesh in September where the senior players were rested.
Now, with the tournament well underway, the Indian team are off to a flying start. They romped to a 4-1 win over Thailand and will be up against hosts UAE next. Recently, DW Kick off met with a couple of well-known Indian football faces to discuss the rise of the beautiful game.
With the rise of the Indian Super League and the I-League, it seems that India is slowly and surely garnering interest in football. It was actually gratifying to see that a sport like football can actually break the stranglehold that cricket has had on the nation.
Hopefully, the Indian team go far in the tournament and possibly bring back a trophy. According to former footballer M Vijayan, India has not had much success due to the poor resources. All this is in comparison with the European footballing giants like France, Spain, Portugal, Germany etc.
Jhingan was happy that with the establishment of ISL and I-League, football will get bigger and bigger. He feels privileged to be part of the process that started everything.