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Asian Games 2018: Indian football team not in pace

AIFF has contested IOA’s reasoning for omitting teams from Asiad contingent, but facts prove otherwise.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | New Delhi |
Updated: July 4, 2018 10:56:30 am
india football, fifa rankings, football rankings, india football rankings, india fifa rankings, Stephen Constantine-coached India U-23 team failed to qualify for Asian Championship on merit. File

The last medal at the Asian Games came in 1970, a bronze. In 2014, the men – essentially the country’s Under-23 team with three seniors — finished 26th out of 29 teams whereas the women were 9th out of 11, conceding 20 goals in their last two group matches. Both teams, the men’s Under-23 side and the senior women’s team, which is eligible to play in the Asian Games, have been largely absent from the international scene since.

Based on these results, and the current ranking, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) axed the football teams from the 524-strong Asian Games contingent on Tuesday. It’s ruffled more than a few feathers at the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF), who have accused the Olympic body of harming the sport’s growth by denying the teams the necessary exposure. But a basic fact-check reveals that the AIFF’s claims does not hold water.

2 friendlies in 2 years for women

At the last Asian Games, the women’s team campaign was all but over even before the opening ceremony took place. They began with an emphatic 15-0 win over Maldives but then the wheels came off. The team conceded 20 goals in their next two games – 10 each against South Korea and Thailand. It wasn’t an one-off result. Last year, in the qualifiers for the Asian Cup, the women lost 8-0 to North Korea, 10-0 to South Korea and 7-1 to Uzbekistan.

One of the key reasons for their sub-par performance has been lack of matches. In the last two years, the women’s team has played just two friendly matches and apart from the Asian Cup qualifiers, they haven’t played an opponent outside the South Asian zone. The team did not participate in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Asian Games because the AIFF didn’t feel they would be competitive enough.

The women players don’t even have a strong domestic tournament to fall back on. The women’s league this year was a 19-day tournament, matches played at odd hours in peak Delhi summer. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das, however, insisted things are changing. “There is a significant effort to improve the women’s national team. We were planning to send them to Spain for a tournament as preparation for Asian Games. Plans were in place,” Das said. On ground, things remain vastly different though.

‘Exposure trip’

At the Incheon Asian Games, the men’s team coached by Wim Koevermans lost 5-0 to UAE and 2-0 to Jordan, finishing just above Laos, East Timor and Nepal, and below Pakistan, Afghanistan and Maldives. Das stressed that results from four years ago cannot be considered now.

The AIFF first argued that the Asian Games will the perfect exposure for January’s Asian Cup. However, the Asian Games is an under-23 tournament, with just three senior players allowed in the squad. So it will be two very different teams competing at these tournaments.

Then, on Monday, the federation’s secretary claimed it would be a perfect preparation for the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. Till that moment, there were suggestions that the SAFF Cup will be one of the key tournaments for the senior team’s build up for the continental championships.

The AIFF then claimed the Asian Games would’ve been a ‘great learning exposure’ for the players for Asian U-23 Championship qualifiers, which will be held next March. Exposure has indeed been a major issue for the U-23 team, which has surfaced only during the qualifying tournaments for the Asian U-23 Championships.

Inactive U-23 team

The last time this team played was a year ago, when they lost to Syria (2-0) and Qatar (1-0) in the qualifiers, while beating Turkmenisan U-23 3-1.

Consequently, they failed to qualify for the championship. India, in fact, have never qualified for the marquee age-group tournament. They get to play the Asian Games because it does not have a qualifier, all teams from the region are eligible to compete in it.

In 2015, too, the team faltered in the qualifiers for the U-23 Cup, suffering heavy defeats to Uzbekistan and Syria while being held to a goalless draw by Bangladesh. In the last four years, India’s U-23 team has played just two friendly matches — both against Singapore last year. They won a match 1-0, and lost another by the same margin.

Few countries rely on Asian Games for exposure. Japan, for instance, have played a total of 10 matches this year alone, including three friendlies. While that might be an unfair comparison, the teams that are ranked around, or below India have been more active.

Take for instance the three teams in India’s group for next year’s Asian Cup. Thailand, a fast-improving nation, have played 34 u-23 matches since the last Asian Games, UAE have played 22 games while Bahrain have played 15. India, meanwhile, have played just 8 times.

Bridge federation ‘shocked’ at exclusion

New Delhi: The Bridge Federation of India (BFI) president Prasad Keni on Tuesday expressed his shock at the exclusion of the Indian team from the list of sports cleared by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the Asian Games to be held in August-September.

Keni pointed to the fact that the ministry of youth affairs and sports had categorized bridge as a ‘priority sport’. Moreover, the Indian team had won five medals at the 3rd Asia Cup International Bridge Championships held in Panaji in June, Keni added. “This is the first time bridge has been included in the Asian Games and the Indian team can win three to four medals. At the Asia Cup held last month, in which all the continental powerhouses, including China participated, India won five medals, including one gold, a silver and three bronze. The team is in form and is very strong. The Sports Authority of India spend Rs 35 to 40 lakh on the Asia Cup. So much money has been spend and the players have put in so much effort. Hopefully, the IOA will reconsider its stand else India will lose out on medals,” Keni said on Tuesday.

At the Commonwealth Bridge Games held in Gold Coast earlier this year, the Indian team had won a gold in the open category.

BFI secretary Anand Samant said that he would be knocking on the doors of the IOA to try and ensure that the card game makes it to the Asian Games. “I will be in Delhi later this week and hopefully will be able to convince the IOA about the medal prospects of the Indian bridge team,” Samant said. The IOA on Tuesday cleared 36 sports disciplines, including martial arts like Sambo and Pencak Silat. India’s contingent strength is 524 with athletics being the biggest at 52.

Surprise sports

IOA has named a 524-member contingent in 36 sports for the Asian Games. India has also entered in some sports that are not mainstream but have been included in the Asiad programme.

Kurash (8 men, 6 women)

A folk wrestling style practiced mainly in Central Asia. India does not have a government or IOA recognised Kurash federation, which is headed by Jagdish Tytler. At the Asian Indoor Games last year in Turkmenistan, India won 3 medals – 2 silvers and a bronze.

Pencak Silat (13 men,9 women)

An Indonesian martial art. India won five medals at the Asian Games test event in Jakarta in February (4 bronze and 1 silver).

Roller Skating (2 men, 2 women)

The sport was last played at the Asian Games in 2010, the only time it has been included. Back then, India won two bronze medals.

Sambo – (2 men, 4 women)

A Russian-Soviet martial art, it is another sport that does not have a government or IOA-recognised federation. The sport was included at the Asian Indoor Games last year but India did not win any medal.

Soft tennis – (5 men, 5 women)

Played with soft rubber balls instead of hard tennis ball, the rules are somewhat similar to lawn tennis. India had sent an eight-member team at the 2010 Asian Games, which returned empty-handed.

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