India secured a crucial 1-0 win over Bangladesh to keep their Asian Games 2023 knockout hopes alive in football. Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri scored from the spot to get India the win on Thursday.
But that’s not the point. Let’s do a recap of the first match India played at the Asian Games.
The Reality Check
The opening encounter of the Asian Games football competition between India and China unfolded as a harsh reality check for the under-prepared and severely-fatigued Indian team. China out-muscled them 5-1, revealing the stark differences in class and quality. While the loss was disheartening, it was also a reflection of larger issues plaguing Indian football, primarily mismanagement and inadequate player development.
The Indian team, largely composed of third-string players, arrived at the Games Village late the night before the match, leaving them with minimal time to acclimatize and recover from travel fatigue. Moreover, the team lacked coordination, which was evident in the way they allowed the Chinese attackers to exploit their left flank. This glaring weakness became a free invitation for the Chinese to launch their attacks.
The harsh weather conditions in China, coupled with the team’s lack of training time, took a toll on the players. Humidity sapped their energy, leading to several players suffering from cramps, making it difficult for them to last beyond the first hour of the game. These factors compounded their struggles on the field.
One of the turning points in the match was Sandesh Jhingan’s lapse in anticipation that led to a Chinese goal. Jhingan was also responsible for another blunder when he attempted to dribble past Chinese attackers in his own penalty box, resulting in another goal. These individual errors reflected the lack of match fitness and the inability to handle pressure situations.
Captain Sunil Chhetri, despite being a stalwart of Indian football, found himself isolated on the pitch for most of the game. The team’s non-existent feeder line struggled to provide support to Chhetri, who had limited opportunities to influence the game. The only silver lining was Rahul KP’s brilliant goal, showcasing his potential as a rising star in Indian football.
The root of the struggles
However, the root of India’s struggles in the Asian Games can be traced back to systemic issues in the our football administration. The team was comprised of players who are not even first-choice substitutes for their respective Indian Super League (ISL) clubs, highlighting a glaring gap in player development. The lack of match fitness and quality on display cannot be solely blamed on the players themselves. What about the accountability of the ‘custodians’ of Indian football, including Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL)?
The Asian Games China match debacle raises questions about the decision-makers in Indian football who hinder the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) efforts to assemble a competitive squad for international tournaments. The mismanagement and focus on commercial interests over player development have hampered India’s progress on the international stage.
To have any hope of salvaging their Asian Games campaign, India now needed to beat Bangladesh. That happened with a slim 1-0 outcome. Myanmar is up next. While the odds may be against them, this should serve as a wake-up call for Indian football. It’s high time that the authorities prioritize long-term player development, invest in grassroots football, and ensure that the best talent represents the nation in international competitions.
Can Indian football truly compete on the global stage and avoid such disappointing outcomes in the future? Given the reality, it’s anybody’s guess.