India will not build on the Puerto Rico high

NEW DELHI: Indian national football team has been put on ice for the next six months. Despite winning eight of its last 10 matches and being on a four-game winning streak, the Indian team may not be seen in action as late as March 2017.

There are two windows for international games in FIFA ‘s calendar in October and November, but the Indian team, which beat Puerto Rico 4-1 in an international friendly last Saturday , is not scheduled, as of now, to play any further games this year.

Incidentally, the two international windows left this year, between October 3-11and November 7-15, come at a time when the third season of the Indian Super League -scheduled to be held from October 1 to December 18 -will be on in India.

It is rare to see a national football team not play for six months. But strangely, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) feels it’s better to play the waiting game as it just “does not make sense” to play in October or November since India would have the required points and ranking and would also be able to avoid a stronger opponent. In an e-mail conversation with TOI, the governing body clarified that the move is a strategic one and has nothing to do with avoiding any clash with the ISL. The AIFF is now banking on some countries sending their ‘A’ teams to India in December which would convince FIFA to consider those games as international friendlies.

“It is not just about playing on FIFA international windows but using a strategy to maximise points. Our intention is to be in Pot 2 of the Asian Cup qualifiers. Our ranking in September is expected to be 147 with 205 points after our win against Puerto Rico. In October, we will gain about 25 points because the matches we played in September 2015 against Oman and Turkmenistan and lost will no longer be counted.

“Our ranking depending upon other results will be between 140-145. So it does not make sense to play in October when automatically you are gaining points and ranking. In November, there will be a dip of 13 points. To offset this dip we have to play a team ranked 90 or above. Instead, it is better that we wait and see what the results are in November and then plan an international in December. Even though there is no FIFA window in December, if the countries agree to send their A teams and inform FIFA, it would be considered as an international friendly. So it is all about strategy and not about any clash with ISL. Teams like Wales and Rumania use such strategies to great effect,” AIFF general secretary Kushal Das told TOI. The point is, which country would be willing to send its ‘A’ team to India in December, when there is no FIFA window.

Earlier this year, national coach Stephen Constantine had expressed his desire to travel to the United States to get some games against sides like Guyana, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago. The experience could have helped India test itself against teams ranked in the similar bracket.

Asked why such a trip was not scheduled, Das said, “A trip to US in September was planned to play practice matches with MLS teams and at least one international friendly. However, it became a little difficult to secure those matches. After discussing with Stephen, it was felt it was better to hold a camp in India so that Stephen could assess the players, play a practice match here and then invite a higher ranked team to India to play an international friendly during the FIFA window. The strategy again was to get as many points to get a better draw for the AFC Asian cup qualifiers. The strategy, as you can see, has come good.”

Meanwhile, AIFF Technical Committee chairman Bhaichung Bhutia said on Thursday that the US tour could not be materialised due to visa problems. However, this sounds more like an excuse and poor planning than smart strategy. The truth is the plea of the national coach, national players, including Sunil Chhetri, and the fans asking for more international games seem to have fallen on deaf ears. It seems the AIFF’s priorities lie elsewhere.


Caught in a web!

The AIFF has not update its website for years. In the upcoming international fixtures section, the website still shows India’s fixtures from 2013 – India vs Philippines (November 15, 2013) and Tajikistan vs India (August 14, 2013).Even in the friendly series section, it shows fixtures of India’s U-23 side against Pakistan’s U-23 side held in August, 2014.