The pots for the draw of next year’s continental extravaganza have been revealed and they have made painfully clear how Indian football has nutmegged itself.
Coincidence or a planned move, the AFC has successfully burst the bubble the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been living in for a long time.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation as an example. You’re a software engineer and you’re creating a virus to save your developing country from one specific attack that is set to take place in the near future. You know that the virus is harming and restricting your own country’s development for sometime, but it is a necessary evil and it needs to be done. So you create a condition of mental peace with it.
One fine morning, you wake up to hear that the rules of the enemy attack have changed and your virus is redundant. It won’t stop the attack, not even affect it minutely. On the contrary, it has pushed your country back by three years in a specific field. How would you feel?
The administrators of Indian football, namely the AIFF, are probably at a similar crossroads at the moment. Derogating progressive, creative football on the pretext of giving manager Stephen Constantine a side that will help India rise up the FIFA rankings, the governing body has probably axed its own feet, or was it a co-incidental masterstroke from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)?
This is how the teams fair in AFC Asian Cup 2019 drawing pots
Scenario I: The AFC has pulled a rabbit out of the hat that has shocked the AIFF!
The AFC on Thursday announced the pots for the AFC Asian Cup draw, to be held on May 4 in Dubai. India, a country that has been vying hard to move up the rankings to be included in pot II, has fallen in pot III. The rankings, as it has been announced, did not even play a part. The first two pots were decided even before Round 3 of qualification. If the AFC has to ensure a better quality of football in the continent, it’s the right path to tread.
The AIFF, on the other hand, is bound to have headaches due to this. In the past, the rankings have decided the pot placements for Asian Cups, but not this time. The 12 teams that qualified for the third round of 2018 FIFA World cup and got bye to 2019 AFC Asia Cup were assigned positions in Pot I and Pot II.
The official website read: “The 12 teams, who received an automatic bye into the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 after qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 – Asian Qualifiers Final Round, have already secured their places in pots one and two and have been allocated spots following Thursday’s publication of the latest FIFA ranking.”
Scenario II: The AIFF knew of the change but still lived in the bubble of the FIFA rankings.
Let’s take a little walk back into history. In September 2017, an AIFF official had said, “We had a meeting with Coach Stephen Constantine today (on Tuesday) and the general feeling was that we should not risk anything against Palestine. The friendly (against Palestine) was finalized a long time ago, but now things have changed. We have to look at the bigger picture.”
This was a direct indication of the ranking gamble Indian football was in and is currently reaping the bane of. Looking back, Constantine, AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das and everyone in that war-room must be feeling as cheated as Indian football fans have felt, every time their team has played disappointing football in the last three years.
“Friendlies don’t give you too many points. We won the Tri-Nation Cup in Mumbai and beat teams like Mauritius and Macau last month, but our ranking will still drop. We are expected to be around 106-107 when the rankings are next announced,” one AIFF official had told the Times of India in September 2017.
The veil to hide the real problems was India’s FIFA ranking, but at the end of the day, it did not help the side for the Asian Cup draw. Why then, was this allowed to go on for as long as it has been? Khel Now has raised voices time and again on the issue.
Read these two articles to get the bigger picture.
Scenario III: Pot I, II, III or IV, India would have easy or hard opponents, irrespective.
The administration has been trying to create an illusion for close to two years now. Sadly, it has come to nothing. Pot IV consists of DPR Korea, Philippines and Bahrain, teams that can outplay any side on their day. On the other hand, it also features Yemen and Turkmenistan, sides India can play and compete against.
Thus, irrespective of the pots, India was always open to having difficult, as well as comparatively easier opponents.That is how continental tournaments are played. An association should not be afraid to face any team and the AIFF lost the plot before it even started. They’ve wasted two years on improving the rankings, instead of the side.
Let’s take a look at where Indian football stands, three years after Constantine started his second sojourn as the manager of the national team. India have managed to qualify for the Asian Cup 2019, but have a pool of 14-15 players suited to the manager’s rigid style of football. Defend hard, hit the ball up top and expect Sunil Chhetri to create magic. The 32-year-old captain did that regularly during the qualifiers, but expecting him to do that single-handedly against better opposition at the main event would be a foolish call.
Please read about these two sets of players who’ve been marginalized, in spite of outperforming the regularly selected players during the last two seasons.
The bubble has burst. India will face bigger, better opposition next year at the continent’s showpiece event. Indian football has been pushed behind by three years and it deserves a coach that plays football with the right attitude. Options? Sergio Lobera, Ashley Westwood or anyone who wants his team to string a few passes on the pitch.