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Opinion: Is the AIFF's ranking bubble too shallow to burst?

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The AIFF, supported by its supporting groups IMG and Reliance, is creating a bubble difficult to push off and is actually making life difficult for Indian football. 

The Indian National Football team was set to play a friendly against Middle East country and 92nd ranked Palestine. The AIFF, however, has had other plans and the same has been cancelled due to questionable reasons. In other news, the Indian National team has slipped 11 ranks to the 107th ranking in the FIFA table released on 14th September, Thursday. 

Indian fans would be scratching their hairs on the new development, as the National team has won two and drawn one game ever since the last rankings were out. The masterminds in the AIFF probably did not plan it as well as they should've, like they always do. 

An AIFF official stated to Times of India that, “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.”

India are at the top of Group A in AFC Asian Cup qualification, having mustered three wins in three games, scoring four goals. The team is set to play its second home fixture against Macau on 11th October according to reports, a date delayed due to an India-Australian cricket friendly on 10th of the same month.

If India lose to Palestine, it will lose its 12th rank in Asia, and as a result, will risk being grouped with more than one heavyweight in their Group in the draw for Asian Cup 2019.

The draw is set to take place in April and India must protect its ranking till then. That certainly strengthens why we keep playing Nepal regularly.

OPINION 

If risking injuries would be a concern, Stephen Constantine and the AIFF wouldn’t have been lousy enough to be playing the first team sans the Bengaluru FC players in the Tri-Nation series which India won with a win and a draw. The situation, now, is better than it had been then, and with no real game-time for players, rustiness could still be an issue.

Most of the Indian players last had a run against Macau on 5th September and will take the field on 11th October, if the AIFF do not find another opponent for a warm-up friendly much like the trend has been for some time now. Indian football fans can expect another victory against a minnow, and that’s what the Federation cares about.

Ideologically, that’s not how a football team develops. Wales have jumped from 117 to 8th on the FIFA charts but did not do it by avoiding difficult friendlies. Reports also suggest that the friendly could be unofficial, helping both parties with important game-time and avoiding the risk of losing FIFA points.


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There could also be a different twist to the story. With the Indian Super League controlling unspoken sweeping powers in the system, there can be a case of different objectives. With some teams already out on their pre-season tours and some raring to, the cash-rich avenue and now, AFC accredited league would not want its players to be risked, a situation so often seen in European football when players go on international duty.

Last season, Stephen Constantine’s much-talked-about US Tour was cancelled due to similar reasons, but official reports negated.

“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 rankings are next announced,” said the AIFF official to TOI.

The AIFF needs to understand that playing teams woefully lower on the FIFA rankings would not help the points. Risking the table is directly proportional to the believe Stephen Constantine and the AIFF put into their players. If only they would play and win the official friendly, things would be brighter. How? Take a look.

The Indian team would then have played a team ranked higher up for the first time in the last five friendlies, in fact in the top 100. They would’ve played against a team certain of qualification to the Asian Cup as well, having defeated Maldives and Oman. Hypothetically, if India would’ve played and won the game, they’d gain more points than they’ve done in one friendly than they’ve close to last 24 months.

Let’s take a look at the friendlies the Blue Tigers have played in the last two years. In 2016, the team defeated Bhutan 3-0, in an unofficial friendly, and a second-string Puerto Rico 4-1, which had arrived just a day earlier before the friendly in India. (thus, had no real time to acclimatize to the climate).

In 2017, the National team defeated Cambodia away 3-2, and Nepal 2-0 at home, with the neighbors filling in for Lebanon, another strong opposition which got canceled due to VISA issues. In the Tri-nation series, India defeated Mauritius 2-1 and drew St. Kitts & Nevis 1-1, games which would lead a drop in the ratings due to the oppositions’ low position in the FIFA rankings.

CONCLUSION

The Indian football fan must understand that this is a bubble the AIFF is creating. A high ranking and poor football on the pitch will not be a success story in the long run. The bubble which is being created will break sooner than later, as the National team continues to rely on Gurpreet Sandhu and Sunil Chhetri’s heroics and resurrection after terrible football in first halves of virtually every game.

The team, we hope that does not happen, will be found lacking in the 2019 Asian Cup if the trend of hiding out against better opposition continues. The only way to get better is to play harder and against better opposition, ask Wales’ Gareth Bale. The team will have a poor showing in the continental tournament and then, the Federation will bask in the glory of qualifying for it, with some smart moves.

Clairvoyance? No. It’s an easy prediction, a prediction we do not want to turn true.

Published: Thu Sep 14, 2017 04:00 PM IST

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