Football really isn’t the sport for the faint hearted. After a promising start in the AFC Asian Cup, India suffered a setback after conceding a penalty in the 90th minute of their final group game. The reaction to this defeat was mixed.
Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia, however, was positive about India’s performance in the tournament when he spoke to Goal. The former Indian team captain mentioned that luck played an important role in India’s pre-mature elimination from the tournament.
“I think India was unlucky. It was very heart-breaking. They could have qualified but they conceded a late penalty. Overall, I think they put on a good performance. They need to keep their heads and chins up. They played well, but the luck was not in our favour,” Bhaichung said.
Did India play for a draw? Were they wrong in doing so? The answer to these questions is subjective, but the Sikkimese Sniper understands how it’s hard to play against a team that wants to attack from the word go.
“It’s always difficult to play against an opponent which are at a similar level or slightly higher level when they are in a do-or-die situation. They would only come all out in attack. When you play those kinds of matches against an opponent like that, you are bound to keep it tight in defence, so it’s difficult.”
“But I think India did manage to keep it tight and defend well but just that last minute of one crucial mistake ended our hopes. Otherwise I think they maintained it well,” the forward said.
Bhaichung was also glad that there was no player who performed bad for India. It did not come to a situation where a standout player had to carry the team.
“I think the entire team was brilliant. Everyone has put in hard work and contributed equally. The good thing about the Indian team -at least in this Asian Cup – was that no one performed bad or someone had to single-handedly carry the team. Everyone contributed, played well and did very well.”
What next? The former captain believes that the answer to the future of Indian football lies in the grassroots and it must be heavily invested in.
“I think India need to keep focusing at the grassroot level and develop even higher quality players in the years to come. The investment still has to be in the grassroot level to identify and nurture the younger generation of players.”