The first time an Indian football team played against Argentina was back in 1984 during the third edition of the prestigious Nehru Cup.
A solitary goal from Ricardo Gareca sealed the tie for the South American giants. Cut to 2018, an energetic bunch of youngsters scripted a historic win over the Argentine U20 team in Spain during the 2018 COTIF Cup. Indian football has undergone a sea of change in the past few years, and results reflect it. If everyone thought that was a fluke, the Under 16 team also stunned the boys from Iraq in the WAFF U16 Championships on the same day!
A couple of wins is an indication that the investments in football are paying back, slowly and steadily.
After a 4th minute header from Deepak Tangri which made its way into the target after a slip from the Argentine shot-stopper, Anwar Ali scored brilliantly from a free-kick to double the lead.
Although Aniket Jadhav was sent off in the 50th minute, the Indian colts managed to hold on to a 2-1 lead after Argentina pulled one back in the 72nd minute. For the records, Argentina is the most successful Under 20 team with six U20 World Cups to their name.
On the other hand, Bhuvenesh scored the winner in the dying minutes of the match to register a win over the current U16 Asian Champions in Amman, Jordan.
India’s rising graph in the context of world football is not an overnight process; it is a well-planned task with near-perfect execution. When Stephen Constantine took charge of the senior boys in 2015, India was ranked below 160, but it soon broke into the top 100 and currently at the 97th spot. Having qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup convincingly, the ‘Blue Tigers’ are eyeing greater feats.
It wouldn’t have been better timing for India to be awarded the hosting rights for the 2017 Under-17 World Cup.
An improvement is an infrastructure was inevitable, and more importantly, India would participate in a World Cup. A brainstorming session was conducted by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to pick up talents from all corners of the world.
A bunch of talented football was handpicked by the management spearheaded by then-coach Nicolai Adam and trained with the best facilities. After Luis Norton de Matos was appointed at the helm, the youngsters were taken to exposure trips in Europe and Central America.
An impressive performance in the Under 17 FIFA World Cup was just the beginning. Although it was a task too tough to progress to the knockout stages, the colts promised much more the future. A key figure in that campaign was the defender, Anwar Ali.
Hailing from Punjab, Anwar played at the Mahilpur Football Academy before he was called up to play for Minerva Punjab U15 team. In fact, Anwar Ali was not a part of India’s squad initially, but he was later summoned during Matos’ reign.
The long-term effect
Anwar Ali was a part of the victorious Minerva Punjab U16 team which won the I-League, he was spotted by the AIFF scouts led by former India International Abhishek Yadav. The team was invited to play against the Indian U17 boys; it was then that Matos picked him for the World Cup. His decision was justified. Anwar was the commander in chief for India during the FIFA event. That was the start of the journey, and the goal against Argentina at the COTIF Cup was an example how the player has grown over the past year!
Rahim Ali, Aniket Yadav, Amarjit Singh, Jitendra Singh, Jeakson Singh and Abhijit Sarkar are some of the other players who played in the FIFA U17 World Cup and a part of India’s squad in the COTIF Cup.
India should not be complacent after the rare feat, but yes, they now have the belief in them to take on the best in the business. A crystal clear instance where serious work at grassroots and proper scouting can do wonders, India may answer a few critics now especially when it’s deemed as the sleeping giants of world football.
The darker side
Even after so many positives, the game is still neglected in our nation. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) decided not to clear the Indian men’s and women’s team for the upcoming 2018 Jakarta Asian Games because the concerned outfits were “incompetent” to win medals. Not being in the top eight of the Asian rankings were just another alibi to support their cause and counter the criticism. Hopefully, the officials are taking notice of the scoreline in the past 24 hours!
India can only emerge as a significant football nation if the priorities are considered. A cash-rich league along with a few well known foreign recruits won’t help.
More Indian players should be groomed, proper facilities, exposure trips are all ingredients to make the perfect blend. Giving more stress to popularise the game throughout the nation, hopefully, players like Anwar Ali will become household names in the future!