THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

India’s final 2014 AFC Challenge Cup hopes come to an end

Indian national team

Indian national team

India’s final hopes to qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives came to end with the Philippines winning their Group E qualifer 8-0 against Cambodia on Sunday.

Team India had finished their qualifying campaign in Group A behind Myanmar with six points and a goal difference of +4 in early March. Wim Koevermans’ boys failed to earn a direct qualification spot to the finals next year, but there were still hopes to qualify as one of the two best second-placed teams.

Bangladesh (6 pts. / +5) topped the ranking of the best second-placed teams ahead of India before the Group E qualifiers kicked-off on March 22. But the the latest Group E results have changed the ranking, which has now Turkmenistan (6 pts. / +10) at the top ahead of Bangladesh.

Brunei withdrew from the Group E qualifiers two days before their first match and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) decided to award the three remaining teams in the group a 3-0 win against Brunei. The decision may sound unfortunate to all Indian fans, but it is a common procedure around the world and nothing to complain about.

I’ve read a few comments by fans blaming the AFC for India’s exit from the competition, but I would rather ask to be self-critical instead blaming someone else. India had the chance to qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup with a draw or win against Myanmar in the last Group A qualifier. But we lost the match 0-1 and therefore Team India will miss the finals in the Maldives.

India’s failure to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup will also deny us a chance to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, which would have been another step forward for the game on the sub-continent.

Football fans have their legitimate expectations, but we need to be realistic about the status quo of Indian football and learn to take step by step forward instead expecting big jumps from the national team although we should have qualified for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. I’m not surprised to see fans calling for a return of Bob Houghton to India. Some of these fans were even the first ones to call for Bob’s sacking in 2011.

There is certainly a loss of quality in the Indian team, if you compare the team today and the ones under Bob Houghton. We shouldn’t forget that several senior pillars like Baichung Bhutia, Renedy Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Climax Lawrence and various others retired from international football after the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.

Wim Koevermans’ job is to build a new strong team which has the ability to be competitive. Some of the younger players of the past like Subrata Pal, Gouramangi Singh and above all skipper Sunil Chhetri are the senior players in the national team nowadays and they are the ones to take some responsibility to lead the new players in the squad.

Bob Houghton implemented a few new methods during his tenure in India which helped his team to improve and grow as a strong unit. And Wim Koevermans could certainly try to use some of these approved methods including long preparation camps ahead of friendly matches and tournaments.

Nonetheless a coach should be given a decent shot to try out his ideas and to improve the team. New ideas need time to fruit and none of us fans, media or officials should compare the present with the past to create unnecessary pressure. Football is already a major meritocracy. You need to be successful to keep your job, but one needs to understand the given circumstances and challenges of football… and especially football in India.

All of us have the same dream and we should pull together our forces to improve the beautiful game of football in India. And sometimes you need to do some fine-tuning to reach your goals. I hope Wim Koevermans and his coaching staff will find the right solutions to take the team forward and to deliver the results we all look for.