Saturday, September 04, 2010

Destination Doha 2011

The stage is set. Participants practising in top gear. Come January 2011 ,Qatar hosts Asian football’s signature event, The AFC Asian Cup. This particular edition of the tournament is of much greater significance from the 6 preceding ones for over a billion people of the continent. Yes folks, India is back in the reckoning 24 long years after it’s last appearance in the tournament. It wouldn’t take a genius to know how the odds are stacked against the Bhangra Boys and why wouldn’t they be? After all we have 3 of asia’s top 5 ranked teams in our group. But that doesn’t mean we should lose hope. In that vein, the AIFF sent the team on a 2 month mediterrainian sojourn to Portugal , so that boys get playing time together under the watchful eyes of guru Houghton.

Now, as with everything in the free world , even this expedition has it’s pros and cons , so let’s look at both sides of the coin. The first week or so was spent training and getting back in shape after the I-League ended in the summer. Soon after the men in blue were seen in action playing lower division Portuguese sides. While the first 2 matches resulted in landslide victories for the boys , the other 6 were either draws, losses(2) or laboured victories. Starting with the positives of the camp, I believe playing lower division teams gave Houghton a chance to experiment with the playing eleven. Even as fans ridicule the coach for opting to play lower division teams while opponents such as the socceroos play world cuppers Slovenia , I believe he was right to START OFF with lower division teams. As the boys hadn’t been together since the Dubai camp earlier this year , they wouldn’t have been in any shape to hold their own against the big guns of Portugal. Moreover, Houghton wouldn’t have had the luxury of giving fringe players a chance to prove their mettle. Suppose India played Porto as many of you would wish , do you think Houghton would’ve played an inexperienced player like Rafi upfront? Instead we played smaller teams and discovered Rafi could score even against foreign teams. Houghton gave all players a chance and deserves applause for that. Apart from that the morale in the camp should be sky-high after the boys won a majority of the games that were played. Also , in these two months the team must have started clicking as a unit once again , which is very important ,especially in big games.
Now coming to the negatives of the trip, there are quite a few that come to mind. If attention is paid to what I wrote earlier in the article, “I believe Bob was right to START OFF with lower division teams” and then graduate to play stronger teams towards the end of the trip. If the boys play and beat smaller teams repeatedly, they may get lulled into a false sense of complacency. Moreover, once the team starts clicking , it is very important that they gauge their strength against better opposition as our opponents in the Asia Cup aren’t exactly pushovers. Secondly, If this trip was utilised to play lower ranked European national sides and had positive results, we would’ve seen an remarkable increase in our FIFA rank (as FIFA gives beating UEFA teams the most points). Why is that so important, you ask? Because for the layman , ranking is everything. It doesn’t matter to him how well the team actually plays. And frankly the team needs massive support and so better rankings would’ve attracted more fans. And finally the financial aspect. The Goal 2011 program promises much, but costs an absolute fortune. The need to go abroad would’ve never arisen if we had even one good training facility and stadium where international friendlies could be played. Sceptics believe that India’s loss early in the tournament would result in the wastage of crores of rupees that could’ve gone to infrastructure development. And hence the camp is pretty much a high stakes gamble.
In my opinion our first real test is when we play the formidable Thais at Bangkok on the 4th of September and the agni-pariksha continues with the volley of friendlies after that. These friendlies would give us a true indication of the cost effectiveness of the boys’ Mediterranean camp.
I hope you all join me in getting behind the Bhangra Boys for the upcoming friendlies.