Indian football needs to prove itself in Asia first

India has been drawn alongside Kyrgyz Republic, Macau and Myanmar in Group A for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. While football has taught me enough to never take anything for granted, I believe we have it in us to earn a top-two finish and make the final stages of the tournament.

Bengaluru FC players practise at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru ahed of their I-League clash against Chennai City FC. Bengaluru had a none-too-impressive start, losing two successive games after winning the first three.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

It has been a rather hectic start to the year with five rounds of the new I-League season already done. And the pace is only going to pick up. But apart from club football, the national team too had a key event in the announcement of the draws for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.

Playing in Group A, India has been drawn alongside Kyrgyz Republic, Macau and Myanmar. While football has taught me enough to never take anything for granted, I believe we have it in us to earn a top-two finish and make the final stages of the tournament. We have some genuinely good talent in this team and everyone has to be at his best through the qualifiers if we are to do justice to the quality this team possesses.

The 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar was the last time India made the final of the tournament, and while we finished at the bottom of Group C, the experience made us richer. I’ve always said this, and I will say it again, we need to get better and prove ourselves in Asia first before we talk about the world stage and draw parallels with small countries that are making big strides at the Euros or the World Cup.

On a personal note, I hope I can play my part in the campaign to the best of my ability. Pulling on the India shirt has always meant the world to me and that emotion will never be matched. I’ve been upbeat ever since the draws were announced, but matches and tournaments are won on the pitch, and not on paper. I also hope that wherever we play in the country, we will have fans thronging the stadiums. We won’t be able to do this without you!

Women’s football gets a fillip

At the time of writing this, the Indian Women’s League has seen a few games through. While it may be only six teams competing, it’s a start and I hope everyone involved does enough and more to help this grow. In our country, it takes a lot to pledge your career to professional football, and I can only imagine how much tougher it is for women to take that step. How much we grow as a football nation depends on many things — our national team, our league system, our developmental and junior squads, and even our women’s team. Which is why this step is a very important one.

I’m following the IWL closely and wish the best to all the teams competing. Let’s all give these girls the backing they need.

Grassroots, the key

The government’s ‘Mission 11 Million’ programme aims to train 11 million children in the country over the year and I think it is really heartening to see the Honourable Prime Minister himself take a keen interest in it. It was also nice to see the kind of participation the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports is drawing and these initiatives need constant encouragement. Even the media has to play its part in putting all of this out there.

We may not have done things the way they ought to have in the past, but we have the chance to fix that in the present in a bid to have a great future.

The Blues and Asia

It’s been a mixed start for Bengaluru FC in the I-League where we have lost our last two games after winning the first three. But our focus now shifts to the AFC Champions League Preliminary 2 Qualifier; we travel to Jordan to take on Al-Wehdat. No Indian club has ever progressed beyond this stage in the Champions League and while we enter this tie as underdogs, we will be going into it with the belief that we can give a good account of ourselves. Let’s see where this takes us.

We’ve been hit with a slew of injuries, but we won’t be using that as an excuse at all. Instead, we will rely on the depth of our squad this season to go out there and do well.