SAFF CUP 2021: Why is India not performing well against below ranked teams convincingly?
The Indian football team hasn't registered a win yet in the SAFF Championship. In such a situation, they prepare to face Nepal, who are sitting on the top of the table with 6 points. But before that, let's analyse what's going wrong for India?
The Indian football team is currently at Maldives plying their trade in the SAFF Championship. But their performance in the tournament which they have won seven times doesn't reflect the exuberance of the side full of stars. The fans feel cringed when the team takes the field, the pundits are critical of what they are witnessing, the people who love the team are now feeling scared. They only have one question in mind. Will India win the next match against Nepal?
What has happened to the Indian football team? The last time they won, it was against Nepal where the Blue Tigers registered a 2-1 victory. But as we all know, a friendly match can't be compared to a professional and competitive match or a tournament.
In the last five matches, the numbers themselves are enough to criticise this team which has performers like Sunil Chhetri, Anirudh Thapa, Manvir Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan and others. They drew 1-1 against Afghanistan and Nepal, won 2-1 against Nepal in the next encounter, drew against Bangladesh 1-1 and succumbed 0-0 against Sri Lanka who are ranked 205 in the FIFA rankings. Perhaps the only positive crux is that it didn't lose a game, which would have been disastrous because all these countries are below them in respect to their rankings.
It seems day by day the performance expected from the players is going down. The coach Igor Stimac seemed confident before taking on Bangladesh on the 4th of October, but what happened on the field doesn't reflect his words. The question arises "Should the coach be blamed for the performance?" Not completely, but yes, to some extent.
In the last two matches we have seen two different starting elevens. Such shuffling can surely confuse the players but at the same time the gap between each match, which leads to the question about the team's fatigue is also to be noted. Against Sri Lanka, he fielded a team which didn't comprise a proper central defender. India played with Subhasish Bose and Rahul Bheke as the centre-backs, who by nature are proper side-backs. Yes, Sandesh Jhingan was out due to an injury, but there were options. Was there any reason to not include Chinglensana Singh in the eleven? When you know you lack a proper centre-back, why were players like Sarthak Golui and Salam Ranjan Singh not included in the squad for the SAFF Championship? These questions may sound unpleasant but they are valid enough.
Now let's look at it from a different angle. The Indian team didn't have a pre-season before the SAFF Championship and in this case, the coach can't be blamed. The ISL club coaches wanted their players and hence, the national team had to sacrifice the preparations ahead of this tournament.
How many matches does an Indian national team footballer play in a year? 20 (on an average). Is that amount sufficient for a player's development? Footballers in Europe play around 45+ matches in a year. The numbers signify where we are lacking. The quality which the national side has is unquestionable, but the quantity of matches should also be looked after if India wants to grow as a footballing nation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected the country's football. Last year, the national team didn't play any matches and couldn't practice together. In fact, after playing against Oman on 19th November, 2019, the national team again played on the 25th of March, 2021 against the same opponents, though certainly, no one could be blamed for this.
What an Indian football lover can do now is simply wait. But wait for what? A change? Change in what? Coaching staff? Players? What?
These questions will persist if the team doesn't come back to track in the upcoming matches. India will be facing Nepal in the SAFF Championship on the 10th of October, a team who have won both of their previous matches against Sri Lanka and Maldives and are sitting comfortably at the top of the table. A win against them would take India to the second spot, but that would depend on what happens in the game between Maldives and Sri Lanka. According to the rules, the top two teams would be playing the finale. Will India make it to the finale? Or will it be the first time they'll be eliminated from the SAFF Championship? Time will tell.