Qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup finals is essential for India if football in the country is to continue to develop in the wake of the success of the Indian Super League, coach Stephen Constantine told Reuters.
India, currently ranked 132nd in the FIFA world rankings, have never played in the World Cup finals and kick off the latest phase of their attempt to qualify for the Asian Cup on Tuesday when they take on Myanmar in Yangon.
They last qualified for the Asian Cup in 2011 but, with the country due to host the under-17 World Cup later this year, Constantine believes booking a spot in the United Arab Emirates in two year’s time would give the game a significant boost.
“I think it would be huge given the fact that it would come two years after we have hosted the U-17 World Cup,” the Englishman said in an interview. “We’ve also got the Asian Games in 2018 (in Jakarta) and have got the chance to build there.
“I think it would be another sign of continued progress and consistency, which is what we’ve lacked in the past. We really need to qualify to keep the momentum in Indian football going. Every country needs to see success.”
Interest in the game among India’s 1.3 billion population has been boosted by the 2014 launch of the eight-team Indian Super League, which has seen players such as Nicolas Anelka and Diego Forlan come out of retirement to play.
But while the game has been showing signs of growth, the national team has achieved little. India’s qualification for the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar came after the country won the AFC Challenge Cup, a tournament for the lowest ranked nations in the continent.
That was their first appearance since 1984 and while they are still the dominant force in South Asia, Indian football remains a long way behind the likes of Japan, Australia, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia.