As exciting as that sounds, AFC's dismal scheduling has led to a lot of international and club fixtures being cramped together and yes, India as a footballing nation will bear the brunt of it.
India's first match is scheduled on the 2nd of March against Chinese Taipei followed by Guam on the 4th and finally ending with hosts Myanmar on the 6th. Three important fixtures in the span of 3 days, gruelling enough?
Wim Koeverman's men may handle that but when the schedule for the AFC Cup came out, it looked a miserable affair for India's top players. Churchill played their game on the 26th February, away against Kitchee and East Bengal played on the 27th, beating Selangor in Kolkata, and will arrive at Yangon for the Challenge Cup qualifiers on the 28th, which means the national team will only get one day of practice before playing their first match on the 2nd. Such tight scheduling not only leads to injuries and player fatigue but does not even make the least bit of sense.
The players would be tired with the travel and after playing these important club matches, one really wonders if they would be able to grasp tactics and fit into Koevermans scheme of things in such a short span.
There are quite a few players who ply their trade with Churchill and East Bengal and are pivotal members of the national squad. It is rather a matter of luck for the Indian National team, that these key players did not get a knock or two, and are perfectly fit for the nation's cause.
The AFC had faltered with their original schedule, as the matches of the AFC Cup and Challenge Cup qualifiers coincided.After then being notified of this shocking erro,r the Asian footballing body then shifted the AFC Cup matches to be played just before the start of the qualifiers in Myanmar and well that made little or no sense as well. Koevermans slammed the Asian Federation for their lack of professsionalism and rightly so, as expecting players to leave camps midway and to arrive a day before an international match is utter nonsense as it left the players and the team with no time to prepare and be fit for crucial international ties.
The AFC could have done so much better, had they postponed the AFC Cup matches to be played later, rather after the Challenge Cup qualifiers.The group stage matches are pretty cramped and one wonders why the AFC failed to postpone the club tournament by a couple of weeks. Postponing the second tie Asian clubs competition would have served the players, country and the club well in all regards. There would have been time to concentrate on one tournament at a time with a decent amount of time for an injured player to recover as well.
The players have already had to deal with the tremendous workload of the I-League and other domestic competitions and what does not help their cause would be their premature withdrawal from the national camp to go play for their respective teams in the AFC Cup. A host of big names left the national camp early to play for their clubs including Sunil Chettri,Sandip Nandy,Denzil Franco,Lenny Rodrigues,Raju Gaikwad,Robin Singh and Mehtab Hossain which really makes one question the significance of the national camp.
With East Bengal and Churchill having just concluded their opening matches in the AFC Cup,the selected few who are part of the Indian squad will head to Myanmar to join the rest of Koevermans men as they prepare to take on the Chinese Taipei on the 2nd of March.
Out of the players who left the camp midway for the AFC Cup only Robin Singh did not start for East Bengal, meanwhile the rest played the full match as India skipper Sunil Chhetri was substituted later on in the game.The players would definitely be fatigued with the amount of travel they have had, starting from the trip to Pune for the camp and then to the AFC Cup and finally ending up at Myanmar for the qualifiers.The players would have been exhausted after the game the heat and the jet lag would definitely take its toll on the players as they prepare to don the national colours. Sunil Chettri was a casualty last time around and coach Koevermans was furious when he heard about the schedules.
Apart from hampering the national team's preparations, the schedules do not really work out well for the clubs participating the AFC cup either.A player having to leave a national camp midway to join his club is never really something a player would look forward to.The selected few will be having an eye on the Challenge Cup qualifiers matches to be played, while turning up for their respective clubs in an important cup competition and could have lapses in concentration. Hence not only has the player missed out on being a part of his club's preparation for a major tournament and at the same time he has not been able to spend enough time with his national team. The scenario here is a perfect example of the old saying 'Jack of all but master of none'.
The only leveller of sorts, if you could call it that, would be that India's main threat in the group Myanmar have the same disadvantage that the Blue Tigers are having. Myanmar's top two teams are also participating in the AFC Cup and that could have a massive say come 6th March, when the hosts Myanmar take on India.The two teams from Myanmar that will participate in the 2013 AFC Cup are league winners Yangon United and Cup winners Ayeyawady United who have a host of big names in their team. The other team to suffer cause of the horrendous scheduling is Tajikistan, having two of their top clubs playing in the AFC Cup.The Tajik champions Ravshan Kulob and the Tajik Cup winners Regaz-TadAZ will be engaged in the lucrative league.
Another team that could have been affected by the scheduling would have been Maldives as their top teams battle it out in the AFC Cup every year. However,the Maldives can count themselves lucky as they won the bid to host the 2014 Challenge Cup and hence as the host nation, they get automatic qualification to the tournament.
This blunder can be put down to total mismanagement and lack of professionalism on behalf of the AFC. The Asian Federation better buckle up soon or else we would have to witness calamities like this yet again next year. Though the Indian team is optimistic and raring to go you would have to keep your fingers crossed, with regards to the level of performance these players come up with and more importantly the scare of injuries, due to the slack work done by the brilliant Asian Football Federation.
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