Even as Stephen Constantine and his India U23s were preparing for their SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Cup semi-final with Pakistan, two of their rivals in Group A of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup were busy playing international friendly matches.
UAE were putting three past Laos at Palamos, Spain while Bahrain were being held to a goalless draw against China at Riffa. Both teams were playing their second friendly in the September international window. UAE had previously gone down 0-2 to Trinidad and Tobago while Bahrain had played out a 1-1 draw against the Philippines.
Thailand and India are the only two teams from Group A of the Asian Cup who will not be in action in the September window. Thailand, though, will be in action at the year-end AFF (ASEAN Football Federation Cup) where they will lock horns with the likes of Philippines and Indonesia among other teams.
Seeing India’s rivals sharpen their tools for the continental showdown in the best possible fashion begs the question as to why the Blue Tigers are not playing any international friendly matches in the September window.
While India’s direct rivals and other Asian Cup participants have been squaring up against quality oppositions, the Blue Tigers' U23 team are only participating in the SAFF Championship.
While a large majority of the 24 Asian Cup participants have been in action in recent times, even teams who have failed to qualify such as Singapore, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia have been racking up the international friendly matches.
A lack of available quality opponents has been cited as an excuse for India not playing friendly matches but seeing the teams on display in the September window proves that it is a lame one.
Granted that India had the SAFF Cup commitments to fulfill but it was the U23 team for the tournament anyway. Logistically, it is very much possible for India to field its U23s in the Bangladesh tournament while its senior team takes on other opposition in friendly matches. And there are no domestic commitment for the players to fulfill currently as well.
While the U23s playing in the SAFF Cup serves as an opportunity for some of them to catch the eye of the coach, there is no excuse for the senior team giving up the chance to play crucial games. At the present, the senior team needs to be taking every opportunity available to them to prepare for a competition which they have qualified for after a gap of eight years.
As such, with the September window now lost, the Indian team has been robbed of some crucial match practice against oppositions whose style of play could prepare them better for the Asian Cup.
Only the powers to be know the reasoning behind this approach but one hopes that the lack of friendly matches does not come back to bite India hard in the UAE. India have broken into the top-100 in FIFA rankings but are still not utilising all the international breaks available, which is a shame.