The build up to the FIFA International friendly against Singapore revolved around supposed facts that, India, the recent Nehru Cup winners, were too good for their present 168 FIFA Ranking, and all the Blue Tigers needed to do to climb into the top 100 was to play more games on FIFA match days.
Talk revolved around how India’s next aim should be the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, with Singapore being seen as a good chance to notch up a few ranking points.
Fast forward to Tuesday, and Singapore, in a clinical display against the Blue Tigers, put into perspective how much needs to be done before India can start dreaming of a place amongst the top 100 football playing nations in the world.
Having slumped to a 2-0 loss to the Lions, Wim Koevermans emphasized how the side is still a work in progress, pointing out how the team lost control of possession after starting brightly and felt the goals they conceded were self inflicted wounds.
While fans bemoaned India’s poor display, something they could only have assumed considering there was no broadcast of the game, Koevermans rightly described the performance as that of a team in transition.
Firstly, India’s record in International friendlies, especially away games, is nothing to write home about. Their last win against a much higher ranked nation on opponent’s soil came against Kuwait, a whopping 8 years back!
Are they really Tigers away from home?...
While victories have been registered against fellow South Asian nations on foreign territory, they have generally been in tournament formats.
So to expect a change overnight is non-sensical. Especially if you take into account the fact that Koevermans is applying a new philosophy of 'pass-and-move' with the squad, something that the players are not used to.
Add to that India’s usual reluctance to play on FIFA matchdays with just 2-3 days of practice plus the fact that the playing style with the national team is in direct contrast to what most players experience week-in and week-out at their clubs, where hoofball is still the norm.
While clubs like Salgaocar, Dempo and Pailan Arrows are trying to play a more possession-based game, most other still stick to a direct style, often necessitated by ground and weather conditions.
And while for the Nehru Cup, India’s new coach had a few weeks to fine tune preparations, over the course of 2 days it is not possible to complete get the players in sync with what the coach desires. Such a project shall always take time.
While Subrata Paul might feel India have the credentials to be a top 100 nation within 18 months, as proven in the game against Singapore, it is not a very realistic target.
The side needs to gain as much exposure as possible...
One cannot just turn around years of neglect in relation to the side’s exposure, infrastructure and youth development program within a year of finally appointing a coach with a modern tactical outlook and a Dutch technical director.
Though improving the ranking of the side is important, with India perhaps even rising after losing the game against Singapore, the short-term aim has to be to further integrate the players into Koevermans’ playing philosophy and gradually rising up to a top 150 slot, while looking to improve on that atrocious away record.
As seen in the way the game has regressed in the country after the 2011 appearance in the continental showpiece, just making up the numbers in a major tournament shall take the Blue Tigers nowhere in the long-term. Several of the players from that squad are now no longer in the reckoning, meaning that the team has had to start from scratch.
And while the country should definitely look to do well in the AFC Challenge Cup and qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup, the long-term goal has to be to improve the talent pool in the country and at the same time taking the league as well as the infrastructure to another level.
Till then games against Singapore and other higher ranked sides should be taken as a chance to learn and grow as an outfit.
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