India’s preparations for the 2019 Intercontinental Cup are set to begin soon as the Blue Tigers get ready to defend the crown they won last year in Mumbai.
Then, two first-half Sunil Chhetri goals had sealed the trophy for India as they beat Kenya 2-0 in the final of the four-team tournament. New Zealand and Chinese Taipei were the two other contestants of the 2018 edition with the latter being the only Asian team apart from the hosts.
That picture has drastically been altered for the upcoming 2019 edition which will be an all Asian affair with the likes of Syria, Tajikistan and DPR Korea set to tussle it out with India.
It is in fact the first time since 2009 that India is hosting a multi-team tournament featuring only Asian sides. In the past, India has played host to several multi-team tournaments such as the Nehru Cup where teams have participated on an invitational basis.
However, since the 2009 edition of the Nehru Cup, all tournaments hosted by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) have featured at least one time from outside the Asian continent. While it was Kenya and New Zealand in the 2018 Intercontinental Cup, it were Mauritius and St. Kitts and Nevis in the 2016 Tri-Nations Series held in Mumbai.
In the 2000s, India rubbing shoulders exclusively with Asian opposition in AIFF tournaments was all too common. The Nehru Cup was the main tournament hosted by India in the past three decades with the competition featuring teams such as Russia, Uruguay, Morocco, East Germany and Poland during its early editions.
European teams’ participation was a common occurrence in the Nehru Cup since its inaugural edition in 1982 until 1997. When the tournament returned after a 10-year hiatus in 2007, it featured five Asian teams including India with the same modus operandi being followed for the next edition in 2009.
Subrata Paul had been the hero for India in the 2009 Nehru Cup with India going on to beat Syria in the final held at the Ambedkar stadium in New Delhi. Hence, the upcoming edition of the Intercontinental Cup will be a throwback to that era with Syria once again making an appearance in an all Asian affair.
Playing against continental opposition in the near future can only be a good thing for Igor Stimac and his men with the important 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers set to get underway in September this year.
Moreover, to establish themselves as a force on the continental stage, India needs to compete against strong Asian teams. Playing against 'B' or 'C' teams of European or Latin American teams won't really help in that regard.