Guam were 33 places behind India in the FIFA rankings when they beat them 2-1 in the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers last year. So when it came to beating Laos, placed 14 places behind India, hopes were not high. It was a must-win two legged tie for a place in the Asian Cup Qualifiers and rankings didn’t matter. Character did.
And India responded to the demands – in the space of six days, they scored seven and conceded just one over 180 minutes against their opponents. The first win came in Laos, a hard-fought 1-0. The second was a fightback from 1-0 down to 6-1 up, with a spell of three goals in seven minutes to put the match to bed.
The two ties had everything that head coach Stephen Constantine has been craving from his young side. And the Indian football fan as well.
More importantly, the win comes hot on the heels of Bengaluru FC reaching the AFC Cup quarterfinals. Equivalent to Europe’s Europa League, this run is Bengaluru’s best in a short three-year history, and one step behind East Bengal’s semifinal run in 2013, which is the best by an Indian club. That they did it after losing their first two group games is commendable – a sign that India has the potential.
At a time when Indian football is going through a massive overhaul, and the FIFA U-17 World Cup coming to the country next year, it’s vital for India to keep getting noticed on the continental stage.
“It’s important because it shows we’re improving, that was the aim when I came here… to see what we can do in Asia. The coverage abroad is good and everyone seems to enjoy Indian teams doing well outside the country,” Bengaluru’s former manager Ashley Westwood told Scoopwhoop at Puma Social Club.
Asia is a massive market for European clubs too — but also very competitive. During a chance meeting with AIFF President Praful Patel at the Cooperage in Mumbai, he said he had pushed for the Club World Cup to be held in India — and only feats like going the mile in Asian competition will force India into the bracket where China, Thailand and Japan belong.
It feels great in just the third year of existence. It’s a completely different mentality approaching an AFC game… the gaffer takes care of the most minute details. Everything matters: the food, which ground to train, the time gap, the sleeping pattern, the pitch adjustment and even the studs.
— Bengaluru and India skipper Sunil Chhetri on reaching the AFC Cup quarters
It’s tough times for the Indian football fan. First, the strain between the I-League, ISL and the new revamped structure. Second, the Indian team’s performances in the World Cup Qualifiers (one win in eight games). Third, the pressures to get venues and the team ready for the U17 World Cup. Amid this, every win needs to be savoured, even though for many, it’s just false hope.
Feature image source: Puma