Legendary Indian footballer IM Vijayan heaped praise on the efforts undertaken by Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
During his visit to the local organisers' office, VIjayan was also impressed by the Supreme Committee's Legacy Pavilion that showcased the remarkable achievements of Qatar.
"Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup is a big deal for Asia. As for the people of my province of Kerala, 2022 is the closest the FIFA World Cup has ever come geographically.
"It is a great opportunity for people of Kerala to be part of a FIFA World Cup and I believe the state will be the topper in India when it comes to fans coming to Qatar in 2022," the former Indian national team striker said.
In awe of the football history section at the Legacy Pavilion and impressed with the preparatory efforts by Qatar, he added, "I consider myself lucky that I came here to see the achievements of former FIFA World Cup legends at the football history section of the Supreme Committee's Legacy Pavilion. It was also great to see the 2022 stadium designs. A lot of professionalism has gone into the planning and construction of the stadiums, which has illustrated the power that Qatar wields in football despite not being big geographically.
"Us Asians know that there has only been one previous instance of the World Cup being hosted in our continent, and in 2002 it took the combined organizational efforts of two nations – Japan and South Korea – to host the continent’s first World Cup. Qatar is hosting Asia’s second all by itself and this is indicative of the country’s power in Asian football," he said.
The national observer for football lauded Qatar national team's performance and title win at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
"Recently, Qatar’s football power has also been visible on the pitch after the national team won the AFC Asian Cup.The Asian Cup win is a good beginning for the Qatar national team, which is going to have many key assignments in the future such as the Copa America which will give the national team a great chance to improve further by the time they play in the FIFA World Cup."
On India's chances at the upcoming 2022 qualifiers, he lamented the fact that the country missed out on a chance to compete at the Asian Games. He also sggested that the core of the Indian team has to be built of younger players.
"For the 2022 qualifiers, it will be very difficult for the national team to reach our level of achievement for the 2002 qualifiers. It is true that coach Stephen Constantine has brought in some amazing results. However, to build on this achievement, our team needs more match exposure. For example, India should have fielded a team in the Asian Games last year. That would have given us an idea of what to expect in the 2022 qualifiers.
"If we had made it to the semifinals of the Asian Games, then there was a chance that the same bunch could have developed further during the 2022 qualifiers. You can’t expect them to compete directly against Asia’s best sides in the World Cup Qualifiers when they are denied opportunity to play in the Asian Games. In my view, India should be playing in the Asian Games – even Pakistan and Nepal figured in the competition last year," he lamented.
Having been a prolific striker during his playing days, Vijayan feels the newer generation of Indian strikers should take a leaf out of Sunil Chhetri's book.
"I was in the UAE to watch the Asian Cup, and India’s overall performance was very good. We were unlucky against the UAE – we could have scored four or five against them. We had a great start against Thailand – scoring four against them was amazing. They are a good team – they reached the knockout stage in the Asian Cup and featured in the final round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
"After that early momentum, our forwards missed five or six chances against the UAE many of them with virtually an open net in front. The finishing in that game resulted in India not being able to qualify for the knockout stage.
"Our new generation of strikers should learn by looking at Sunil Chhetri - his previous scoring record for the national team and his amazing work ethic. The other strikers currently are not at the same level as Chettri. Take the example of Ashique Kuruniyan – he is young and inexperienced and needs time to develop. We also have another talented youngster in Joby Justin waiting to break in.
"In about two years, it will be time for Chhetri to retire and I am confident by then we will have a youngster ready to take his place. We all believed football will never find another player like Diego Maradona and then came along Lionel Messi and then Neymar. So it will be happen and youngsters like Ashique will be ready.
"However, as a team, we will need to start focusing on finishing a bit more. We have been very consistent in defence over the last few years but the finishing has been a worry as it has been inconsistent. It is a specialised skill and there needs to be focus on it for it to develop."