Can India make it to the FIFA World cup?

When Priyaranjan Dasmunshi took over as the President of AIFF in the late-80s, India was ranked well over a hundred in the then-unofficial ratings.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
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When Priyaranjan Dasmunshi took over as the President of the All India football Federation (AIFF) in the late-80s, India was ranked well over a hundred in the then-unofficial ratings. Today, the national side stands at 117th in the official FIFA rankings, a clear indication of how much football has progressed in India over the last two decades. Ahead of the game's biggest spectacle, NDTV decided to find answers to the reason behind the present condition and if India can ever make it to the world cup. Gaining popularity Indian football is more glamorous now than ever before because of a television deal worth Rs 273 crore between Zee Television and the AIFF. All the football matches are shown live, with cheerleaders and the TRP's are already climbing. "The football in India is pocketed in certain parts, Kerala, Calcutta, Goa. But now, for instance, we have the champions of India from Mumbai, which is a good thing for Indian football," said Gary Lovejoy, COO, ZEE Sports. "I think football will come to the fore if we can build on that and develop football with better focus, more marketing and better presentation. And there are already very good signs because we've shown that in ratings terms, Indian football can beat the EPL - the English Premier League," added Lovejoy. There has been no change in the performance of the national squad though. The Indian team lost 6-0 to Japan earlier this year. The only title the team won was at the SAFF Cup when they beat lower ranked Bangladesh in the final. Poor fitness levels Many believe that fitness of Indian players is not up to the mark and so they cannot cope with faster, fitter teams from outside the subcontinent. Conclusive evidence shows that Brazilian striker Adriano's thunderbolts can be timed at 80 miles per hour while India's Bhaichung Bhutia is 10 miles less than that. In speed too, the Indians lag behind, with the average Indian footballer running the 100m more than a second and a half slower than England striker Michael Owen. "Fitness has always been a big problem. We are not used to playing 90-minute matches. We had players of great skill, who compensated for their lack of fitness with their phenomenal skill," said Novy Kapadia, Football analyst & Commentator. "Let's take Brazil, their players have also realised that you have got to be able to run also, not just dribble. So they go to the gym, develop upper-body strength, develop their thighs, develop their fitness and still retain their skill. Indian players have to realise that without physical fitness, you cannot go that extra level," added Kapadia. "I feel people have been thinking that football players should only have the lower extremity. But I feel they are mistaken, because science has proved now that the powerhouse is the abdomen and the spine. And definitely it helps with the control of the ball. But overall I have seen that science or sports medicine has not yet entered football systematically, in this country," said Dr Ali Irani, Former Physio of the Indian Cricket Team. Promising future In the past a convenient explanation has been that the best stock in the country goes to cricket, leaving football with a disadvantage to begin with. "There is no such feeling. We don't compete with cricket, nor do we take cricket into the picture when we plan something. We as an independent body are organising a sport, and competing against 207 countries, not against cricket," said Dr Shaji Prabhakaran, Director, AFC Vision India Programme. "We have to see that this game becomes popular, many children get a chance to play and the game develops that kind of passion among the citizens," Prabhakaran added. The passion does exist, that's why Tushar Dev, a management executive turned football coach and manager has a website called kickoff2010. Dev actually believes that India can make it to the world cup by that time. He is investing his own money in a school league and a training camp in Delhi. Dev wants AIFF to tackle just one problem. "Fraud age-certificates are so easily available. The Associations overlook it because they want the team to win, the coaches overlook it because they want them to win, and the parents do manipulations because they want their sons to get government-sector jobs," said Dev. There may be thousand excuses but still not one good enough reason as to why football can't be more popular in India except when its time for the world cup. The AIFF might have been lacking in terms of vision but FIFA the governing body of football worldwide is making sure that it intervenes with its vision India project in which they have invested.