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Some of the country's finest in football expressed their views on the national team's recent debacle in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers....

They are people who have represented the country with pride. However these legends are unhappy with the sorry state of Indian football which was again highlighted when the Blue Tigers made a mountain out of a molehill in qualifying the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup to be held in 2014 in Maldives.

“Mismanagement in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has led to this situation,” Tulsidas Balaram, a member of the 1962 Asian Games winning team told The Times of India.

“Do we have a national team I wonder at times. Every good footballing nation has more than one team. But the AIFF struggles to get the first team in order,” Balaram said on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the S.A.Rahim Memorial football tournament being played at the Jamia Millia Islamia.

India made a good start to the qualifiers by narrowly defeating Chinese Taipei and then thumping Guam. Needing only a draw to assure qualification the team choked on the last hurdle as they lost 1-0 to an under-strength Myanmar side who had a vast majority of their key players injured. While Myanmar qualified since they finished on top, India now have to wait till qualifying stages conclude March 26. Wim Koevermans' side can now hope to qualify for the final round as one of the two second-best teams.

“During our days we were the undisputed champions in our area. It is a shame that now that we are struggling to win against teams like Myanmar, Nepal and Maldives. The standard has gone down drastically,” piled on Balaram. The former India player also called for more exposure trips for the junior teams.

One of India’s jewels in football and former Technical Director P.K. Bannerjee agreed with Balaram. “I think we have fallen back badly in the last 10 years. During my tenure as the Technical Director, we were consistently beating the top teams in the region,” Banerjee said.

The former AIFF official felt that negative comments by current Technical Director Robert Bann on skipper Sunil Chettri did the team no good ahead of a tournament. The Dutchman had stated that Chhetri’s stints abroad were a big flop seeing that the striker had seen very little game time during his stint with Sporting Lisbon’s B side.

“I think such negative comments on the captain ahead of a crucial tournament didn’t help the team’s morale. We cannot belittle our own captain,” opined Bannerjee.

Mohammed Habib, member of the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games bronze winning team, feels it is time for an Indian coach to take charge of the national team. “We need an Indian coach so that he can communicate well with the players. Foreign coaches are not delivering. Why not give an Indian a chance,” questioned Habib.

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