India’s next international assignment will see them host Palestine in a mid-week friendly in Kochi. The Blue Tigers have been a tough team to beat at home and have had an impressive Nehru Cup campaign which ended in them retaining the title.
Following the Nehru Cup success, India travelled to Singapore to play a friendly on October 16th, 2012. The Indians dominated the game in bits and pieces in the first half but ended up losing the game 2-0. This continued the trend of the team failing to win friendlies on foreign soil.
Thereafter India were scheduled to play another friendly against Yemen in Guwahati however the West Asian backed out at the eleventh hour.
It must be pointed that India have failed to register a win in an international match for a while now. Their last victory dates back to November 11, 2011 when they won 3-2 against Malaysia at Kolkata under coach Savio Madeira.
Indian national coach Wim Koevermans' decision of selecting a squad which has largely under performed in this season’s I-League has come under scrutiny. Barring the likes of Dempo's Clifford Miranda, East Bengal's Mehtab Hussain and Churchill Brother's Lenny Rodrigues, most of the core members have not been at their best. Salgaocar FC's Francis Fernandes has only impressed in the last matchday as he scored a couple of goals against Pune FC to return to form. The coach has his philosophy of backing a player to give his best at the crunch moments and believes they will come good eventually. Indian football fans would hope that his turns out to be the case when they take on the Palestinians.
For the players who haven't been in top form for their respective clubs, this is an opportunity to get away from the attention and hopefully introspect in a different environment which shall help them resolve the problems in their game. It is the perfect time to concentrate and get their focus right where it should be, on winning the game.
It's not that they will face a Herculean task given that Al-Fursan only have two professional players in their squad which suggests that this is a weakened Palestiniean side. Hence anything other than a victory wouldn't be a good result.
However it must be noted that the Indians aren't used to training for a couple of days and playing an international friendly. The first instance when they had to undergo this was three months ago for the game against Singapore and the end result wasn't noteworthy.
Yes, Palestine are ranked 152nd in the world, which is 14 spots above the Indians, a second string side should be relative easy for the Blue Tigers. India underperforming against opposition of this calibre would have some repercussions in the future, as it may lead to disinterest from top teams to play against them.
Should India manage to progress in the Challenge Cup qualifiers where they have been grouped alongsideMyanmar, Guam and Chinese Taipei, Palestine, who are also harbouring similar aspirations, could be one of their opponents in the AFC Challenge Cup which will be held next year.
And mind you, you won't get to play a weakened Al-Fursan at the Challenge Cup as they will come with a full strength side, which is unlike the case now.
A team’s quality and standing, like it or not can only be determined by its FIFA ranking. Internationals like Subrata Paul and a few others have opined in the past that the ranking does not suggest the state of football in the country. However All India Football Federation (AIFF)'s Technical Director Rob Baan agreed to disagree and felt rankings are crucial in determining the health of the game.
The last game played in Kochi was in 2004 against Oman, when India was ranked 132nd. Nine years down the line, India have slipped further to be ranked 166th in the world which only indicates that the national side have been on a downward spiral. Also it must be noted that several other nations have improved and thus have been placed above the Blue Tigers in the rankings ladder.
It must be pointed that back in 2009 June when Palestine were to participate in the Nehru Cup, their ranking was 177. Since then, they have managed to progress and go 25 places above. Palestine, a nation which is marred by strife and with a mere population of around 4.3 million, have made tremendous improvements lately which has seen them beat the likes of Azerbaijan, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
India must play a considerable amount of friendlies against better opposition which will not only help the team gain valuable confidence and exposure, but also help them climb higher in the rankings. After all, when one talks about a team’s form, its all about the FIFA ranking, isn’t it?
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