The big joke that was Indian soccer

On November 12, 2015 India retaliated uneventfully with a 1-0 victory in the home match against Guam in the 2018 FIFA world cup qualifiers. But at the time of writing, they’re still at the bottom of the points table, and are out of contention for the 2018 FIFA world cup to be held in Russia. In June, Guam had inflicted an insulting 2-1 victory on India. The world’s most populous democracy, India, with its billions of people was beaten by a 212 sq. mile U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with a population of just 180,000! Notwithstanding the fact that almost all of Guam’s players were from the U.S. soccer league system, the defeat had caused a lot of shame to the Indian team and the Indian authorities have supposedly rethought on the long term plan for the Indian soccer team.

India has never been a great sporting nation and soccer is also no exception. When India gained independence from Great Briton after World War II, the majority of her people were under the poverty line. Indian economy was predominantly agrarian one, and the vagaries of its fortune were inexplicably tied with that of the ‘rain god.’ For a poor nation and its people, sustenance was of primary concern; not sporting excellence. Indians paid a lot of importance to academic excellence and this disposition has handsomely paid off. India is the only nation that has sent a spacecraft to Mars on its maiden attempt. Multinational companies are fueled by Indian talent and expertise, including Microsoft and Google whom have two people with Indian-origins as their CEOs.

Indians are a mixed race. They do not appear to be big or strong compared to their Caucasian or African counterparts. I remember a train-ticket-examiner whom had asked for my ticket. I was sitting alone, and his id badge was dangling before me; and I was able to read his name from the badge while he was inspecting my ticket. His name seemed familiar to me, but I was not able to identify the athletically-built young man who was seemingly of my age. On an impulse, I searched the internet immediately afterward, and I was able to find out that he was a 400 meters runner who had represented India in the 4 x 400 m relay in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He was much shorter than me in height, but was a better-built person. On a racetrack, he was able to outrun me or other fellow Indians, but was he able to win against other world-class athletes? As a matter of fact, the Indian 4 x 400 m relay team did not even go past the first round in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The mindset also has to be improved. Athletics, sports, and soccer in particular were considered stepping stones to a well-cushioned government job. This has to change. Indian athletes have to select appropriate avenues where they can compete world-class with other people. Talking about soccer, though, everything-else-being-equal, physical size can be a game-changer; we can take examples from Latin American countries where their style of play compensates for their lack of physical size. So when the tall Austrian-and-Serbian teams try to compete with long-range passes and headers, Argentinians and Brazilians try to outsmart (and outmaneuver) them with their dribbling skills and ball-control using shorter passes.

Indian soccer is slowly developing, and things like the Indian Soccer League – ISL – are really good for Indian soccer. Among other things, Indian players are able to train and compete with world class soccer players through the ISL. This is going to be one important factor if ever India starts to really compete at the world level in the years to come.

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