Indian Football - On the Rise?

Does India have a realistic chance of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the near future?

The FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup is an international association football competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the members of the sport’s global governing body. The quadrennial competition has been held regularly since the inaugural tournament in 1930 (except during World War II). After a dismal perfomance of winning one game and losing the other seven, India has once again failed to qualify for participating in the tournament, coming last in their group, consisting of five teams. The only time in history India has qualified for the World Cup was in 1950 when other teams in the group quit, but they didn't participate that year due to the high expenses, even though FIFA had agreed to pay a considerable amount.

India is undoubtedly a sports loving nation, having a talented pool of players in every position and age group. The Indian national team is currently led by arguably their best player ever, 33-year old Sunil Chhetri. Even though their star players are ageing, a new wave of talent is rising through the ranks to solidify their positions in the senior squad, such as centre-back, Sandesh Jhingan and goalkeeper, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The rising stars are given guidance by players like Jeje Lalpekhlua, who’s at the peak of his abilities. The rise of Indian Football team can be seen by their current FIFA ranking of 97. The team had hit 173rd, the lowest rank in its history, in 2015 and the recovery - 3 years and 76 places - is a sign of good things to come.
Apart from the World Cup qualifiers, the team also participates in a host of other international competitions, which provides them with enough experience to face tougher challenges, such as the AFC Asian Cup, in which the Indian team has qualified for the 2019 edition. They’ve also won tournaments such as the Intercontinental Cup and the 2015 SAFF Championship, hence proving the growth of the nation on the international stage. Even though the I-League is considered the premier football league in India, the rise of the privately owned Indian Super League gives the younger generation a platform to showcase their talent and also test their skills against the best in the country and beyond.
Even though they have a poor record in the qualifiers, FIFA considers India as an up and coming nation in the world of football. They expressed this faith by granting India the opportunity to host the U-17 FIFA World Cup. FIFA will also be incorporating a 48-team World Cup from its 2026 edition, which will give opportunities to the underdog nations such as India. But, the easiest way to qualify for the World Cup is to bid for hosting the World Cups 2030 and beyond, giving them automatic qualification to the finals without going through the qualifiers.

The Indian Football Team does not lack quality players. But, compared to our European counterparts, the players simply lack the training to bring out their potential. In the end, Football is always about stamina and speed and the training regimen. The training methods followed in India is simply not good enough to match the health and fitness of players playing in the European leagues, hence giving us a disadvantage when it comes to facing these heavyweights. These factors cannot be instilled in a player in one night. The process has to begin early and the coaches in the junior level simply lack the experience to bring out the best in their young players. Unlike England, we do not have an established academy that can help nurture a player from a very young age.
Even if quality players rise above the ranks, they lack the motivation to perform in the games due to the absence of a large fan base. A player would feel the difference playing in front of 25,000 fans instead of 2,500 fans, which prompted Sunil Chhetri to post a video on social media, urging the fans to come out in support of their national team. Even though India is considered more of a cricket loving nation, there is no shortage of fans of football as a large part of population supports teams in the European leagues and International tournaments. Sadly, this doesn't apply for their own national team.
Due to the increasing popularity of cricket in India, sponsorships are hard to come by for even the most passionate groups as investors are unwilling to put their money on something which cannot grab the headlines. Sunil Chhetri earned a decent salary of 1.5 Cr INR, for the 2017 season of ISL. However the number pales in comparison with that of his National Cricket team counterpart's, Virat Kohli's, which stood at a staggering 18 Cr. for playing in Indian Premier League (IPL). The glaring disparity shows the financial power and stability of the BCCI and AIFF.
Indian Football can be elevated to the elite level if the effort comes from us, the people of India. Let the rise in ranks be a catalyst to its growth.One day, our efforts will bear fruits, if we are methodical and persistent as the footballing power houses.

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About the Author 

 Nithin Premarajan is a short, shy and silent dude who's just one sandwich away from fat (hopefully). Also he loves travelling, food, sports and movies. Currently pursuing B Tech from CET even though he knows he's doomed to fail.

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