Indian football on the right track

Things are surely looking up for Indian football and it’s key that all of us support the cause, and keep the momentum going.

“I want to end this with a word for the fans. In every city — the national team has played — we have been receiving tremendous support. I hope the fans realise that they impact our performances in very big ways,” the author says.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Just when I think that the dust (the happy variant) has settled on India’s win over Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Asian Cup qualifier, social media has thrown a ton of comments from fans who refuse to let the joy of that victory fade. It’s been a very special week for Indian football and its fans, and I’m only glad that I could play my part on what was a fantastic night at the Kanteerava Stadium against a superior opponent. We dug deep and did enough to take an important step towards qualification for the continental competition.

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If you’ve been following the national team over the last few months, you would agree with me that there’s a nice positive vibe about things — on the pitch and in the stands. Everyone’s pushing and pulling in the same direction and the results are showing. We find ourselves on top of Group A with six points from two games and even though it’s still early in the group stages, I firmly believe that our fate is now in our hands.

I could be wrong, given that I don’t really keep count, but I read somewhere that we’ve stitched together a small little run of eight games without being beaten and we’re inspired to keep the momentum going.

A lot is being written about what we are doing right, along with tactical breakdowns and more. But for me, what has stood out as the biggest reason for our purple patch, if you can call it one, is sheer desire. We know our limitations as a team. But we also know that desire doesn’t need history to fall back upon. This is a team in which the players are willing to fight for each other and we showed it in Bangalore. There were a fair number of times when we were exposed by the Kyrgyz attack, but there was always someone in a blue shirt, who was willing to fling his body in the way to make sure nothing gets past us. That’s the desire that I am talking about, the desire that is making the difference. It’s infectious. Suddenly everyone wants to push himself beyond his limits and sometimes the reward for that is three points.

The last year has also seen the gaffer hand so many youngsters the chance to pull on the India shirt and it’s really encouraging the way so many of them have responded. The gaffer has genuine headaches at times when it comes down to squad selection and that’s a great problem to have.

I even read comments from fans who debate and have opinions on who should have started instead and what options are there in a particular position, and that’s a very nice sign.

It’s a nice blend of experienced players, who have consistently been performing well in the I-League, and youngsters, who are coming through the ranks. I also feel that the level of competition in the league has grown better and that is, very naturally, reflecting on the national team’s performances. That said, I cannot give enough credit to the gaffer and all the staff, who have worked tirelessly on this team.

However, what’s important is to not get carried away by this good run. Instead, we need to be wise and use it to keep propelling ourselves further. The task is far from done. A lot has also been written and spoken about us hitting the 100 mark in international rankings. Again, our celebrations on this front ought to be minimal. A true measure of our success would be consistent good performances against quality opposition. We need to consolidate this position and stick there and thereabouts for some time to prove that we deserve our upward climb.

I want to end this with a word for the fans. In every city — the national team has played in — we have been receiving tremendous support. I hope the fans realise that they impact our performances in very big ways. I would also like to thank the media for the way they have been covering the national team and its progress. I’ve always said that it is going to take the coming together of everyone, who has anything to do with Indian football, for the sport to grow the way we want it to.

Things are surely looking up for Indian football and it’s key that all of us support the cause, and keep the momentum going.