Tuesday, January 11, 2011

India don't belong at Asian Cup

A football journalist Jesse Fink believes it was wrong to give India a free pass to the Asian Cup.
So can we all take off our rose-coloured glasses for a moment and just come out with what it is plainly obvious but only a few are prepared to say?
India don't belong at the Asian Cup. That much was evident on Monday night in their
opening group C match against Australia, which finished 4-0 to the Socceroos.
Plucky, yes. Courageous, yes. Hard-working, yes. But in every other facet of their game the Bhangra Boys, save their outstanding young goalkeeper Subrata Pal, were totally out of their depth.
And while it is fantastically enervating to see the country that qualified for the 1950 World Cup and was runner-up at the 1964 Asian Cup take its place again at a major tournament, the fact of the matter is the Indians are only there because the Asian Football Confederation slipped them in through the back door of the very minor AFC Challenge Cup, a competition they shouldn't have contested in the first place, being as it is designed for even lesser football nations such as Bhutan and Laos.
What an anomaly. You don't get to the World Cup by winning some two-bit competition. You get there through the rigours of a qualification campaign. Yet India bypassed that altogether because the AFC, for myriad political and economic reasons, wants football in India to flourish. As we all do.
But lumping them in the Asian Cup finals without doing the hard work that should be required to get there is the equivalent of throwing Eric "The Eel" Moussambani in the final of the 100m freestyle at the Olympics. It's a joke.
And it's a bitter pill to swallow for the much stronger football nations - Oman, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam - that by rights should be there in India's place. They all fell trying to get to Qatar 2011 by having to play much more formidable teams than any of the so-called "emerging" minnows India faced at the Challenge Cup in 2008.
Had one of them made it and taken their place among the final 16, perhaps they too could have given the Socceroos a real scare, just like Jordan did Japan, or even defeated them, like Syria did Saudi Arabia.
That's what major competitions should be about: not being able to predict a result with any surety. But India was a sitting duck. It was a mismatch - bookies Down Under had an Australian win at $1.05, a Indian win at $21. It was an invitation to make jokes about cricket scores. And the Australians, as we all expected from a team almost entirely made up of European-based professionals, coasted.
Too easy. Too predictable. The AFC might as well have just given Australia the three points and not even bothered playing the match.
But, you see, this is all part of a grand plan by the AFC to make India a football power. Playing in the Asian Cup, it believes, will give India the kickstart it needs to get its act together and realise its potential.
Wrong. Free passes and shortcuts aren't the answer. The only thing that is going to return India to a higher echelon in the Asian game is infrastructural improvement, administrative reform, professionalisation of the l-League, grassroots development, properly allocated investment and a collective will from everyone involved in Indian football to work hard and put aside personal interest to achieve that dream. Not to mention getting to the Asian Cup on merit and not through special favours.
If they can do all those things, the next time India makes it to Asia's greatest football showpiece, countries such as Australia won't take to the field knowing they've already won the game. We really will have something to celebrate and India truly will have arrived on the continental stage.
For now, though, they're nothing but pretenders.

By Jesse Fink

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