As an Indian, it is natural that I keep a keen eye on the performances of the Indian football team but in all honesty that would not have been just two years ago. But boy, what a couple of years it has been for the Blues. It’s not just the dramatic rise in the rankings that has me take such an interest in the football played here. It’s the style of play, it’s the confidence that the players have shown and the side has only gone from strength to strength in this period of time.
With the announcement of the draw for the Asian Cup next year, I cannot help but feel confident about the countries chances to progress into the knockout phase with all due respect to the other countries. It is quite incredible as I would not even have dreamed of seeing us in the competition let alone progressing. While, I agree that winning the whole thing would be getting ahead of myself but with the progress that has been made under Constantine, it would not be a call made purely on passion that we might have more than just a chance of leaving a mark on the premier competition in Asia.
This progress is not just limited to the national team and that is, in fact, the biggest achievement we’ve had. While the under-17 World Cup was a resounding success as a host, the boys in blue showed heart and character more than their age as they fought to the very end of each match. There are some absolute gems in that team coming through especially the keeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, who’s impressive performances caught the eye of a number of clubs not just in India but in Europe as well. The lad who had a marvellous tournament individually, just in February went to Scotland to have a trial at Motherwell. But that’s not all of it, the player attracted interest from Aussie side Perth Glory and as of yet unnamed side in Brazil. In the words of one of India’s greatest if not the greatest footballers, Baichung Bhutia, he was “the find of the World Cup.” Such is the praise that has been levied upon the rising star.
India’s rise up the rankings has been dramatic, spectacular and incredible to watch. From the lows of the 160s to the high of breaking into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings and maintaining that position is quite an achievement for the sleeping giant of world football. While China has made some significant progress as a footballing country over the past several years, India is not far behind their geographic neighbors in what has been touted as the race to the legitimate footballing glory in Asia. It is these two countries that are going to challenge the might of the Australias, the South Koreas and the Japans in the continent in the coming decades.
With Constantine signing the new contract and agreeing to remain as the coach of the Indian football team. He becomes the longest-serving foreign manager in India. There was a collective sigh of relief from the Association and the fans as they managed to keep the man who is spearheading the campaign to eventually get the country on the plane to a World Cup.
The blend of youth and experience in the Indian football team is a welcome sign as the national team in the past has been critiqued for being too inexperienced sometimes or a retirement home in other times. Players like Chettri, Balwant Singh, Arnab Mondal, and Anthony D’Souza offer the experience. While the up and coming names like Sandesh Jinghan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and Subhashish Bose among others offer youth.
The success that some of the clubs like Bengaluru FC have achieved in continentally in the AFC Cup is a welcoming sign indicting there is finally an improvement across the board and not just in bits and pieces. There is hope that the team can better their Finals appearance from a couple of years back and bring the Cup back home this season.
There is hope that this crop of players will help the country take the next step in returning to the heydays of the 1950s and 1960s during Indian football’s Golden Era. These are exciting times to be a Blue and boy, I can’t wait for the AFC Cup 2019 to come.