Will India ever qualify for FIFA World Cup?
The final match of Argentina vs France was one of the most memorable matches in the FIFA World Cup 2022.
On the other hand, a policeman was beaten up as football fans turned violent in Kannur, Kerala.
How did football hooliganism start in India?
In Kerala, 5 people stabbed a boy named Anurag who was returning after watching the match – a fight broke out. Kolkata celebrated Argentina’s win on the road. There was an excitement for Argentina vs France all around the country as if this was India vs Pakistan cricket match. This much passion and enthusiasm for a country that is thousands of km away – this is the craze for football.
India is among the top cricketing nations. We’re exceeding in the other sports like badminton, hockey, and our Olympic tally keeps increasing. However, when it comes to football, India, as a matter of fact, entire South Asia lacks.
What’s there in Football that fails us? Will we play FIFA world cup 2026? Or, is it not in our destiny?
Argentina’s Diego Maradona created magic in football in the 80s. You may like 2022 world cup final more, but original fans remember the magnificent run of 1986 world cup. It was a time when there was no internet and hardly any TV sets. Maradona still became a country wide icon through print and radio.
India, with over billion population, and with such a craze, has not been able to qualify for FIFA world cup. Never among 32 qualifying nations competing for the trophy! Is it because our love for cricket is too much? Or do we lack build and stamina for football? Btw, we are always running in life. I don’t feel there is a problem in this department. When it comes to kicking we are not that bad; we often resolve conflicts on road like that as our inner Pele is out.
There must be other reasons beside height, build, stamina. 5’7’’ Messi is among the greatest players of all time. Then, we can also play like that, can’t we? Then, where is the problem? Is it teamwork? We can do batting and bowling well, but can we glide a football from half-way to the goal and into the goal as a team? Let’s dive into this problem a little more.
Biggest Failure AIFF
When politicians enter a sport, it is destined to be a victim of ego battles. If we ever participated in football world cup, there’d be another level of excitement. After independence we got this chance as other teams withdrew from 1950 cup. But our All India Football Federation (AIFF) could not send a team, skipping this golden chance. Politicians have done this for decades now. AIFF has failed consistently since Nehru.
When the Supreme Court tried to intervene to fix things up, like with BCCI, FIFA suspended AIFF – no more international matches – reason was FIFA thought a 3rd party must be running AIFF. Sometime later suspension was revoked. But, we may lack in still – sometimes it gets hard to beat Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Pakistan.
Why can’t we produce 11 players from 1 billion population? But, if we get into the match you will realise that there is no relation between population and football. China, being the highly populated country in the world qualified once for football world cup in 2002, and ousted immediately without scoring a single goal.
India – 1.4 billion, Pakistan – 227 million, Bangladesh – 167 million, Ethiopia – 117 million, Philippines – 112 million –- these are the largely populated countries that never qualified for world cup. On the other hand, very small countries with less population qualified – Iceland 3,34,000, Paraguay 9,25,000, Trinidad Tobago 1.3 million, Northern Island 1.4 million, Kuwait 1.5 million. For context, 30 million people live in capital Delhi alone. So smaller nations have qualified before.
Asia – our time will come!
It’s not like Europe and South America will forever dominate football. Asia will rise in the world of football too. It’s a question of when! Iran performed well at the world cup, Japan beat Germany, Saudi Arabia defeated champion Argentina. Ok Immigration, but without immigration or colonial past even France won’t be this strong a team!
Yet, it is also true that no other country outside Europe or South America won the world cup ever. Only twice has it happened when a country outside South America or Europe went to play semi-final.
Although there is no relation between population and football, but there is strong relation between money and football – how football was hosted by a small nation as Qatar! But can money make a good footballer? Average income of 32 FIFA nations – it is $31,000 per person. Rich nations where average income is high are more successful in football. Average income of African teams in World Cup is still more than average African income.
Average income of African teams in WC is $3500 per person. In comparison, India’s average income is $2200 – we need more infrastructure for football in our country.
As one does well economically, popularity of football also increases (it’s not a universal rule, some South American nations do well without money). But club culture increases when country does well economically – regional talent is discovered and helped to shine in every possible way. For example, IPL has found so many new talents which made us cricketing superpower.
It is also a great profession. Football clubs in India are not recent phenomena. Who hasn’t heard of Mohun Bagan? They must be modernized – just how a league format modelled on IPL also started.
For many years, Asian footballers were denied entry to football clubs because of racist angle too. The theory that Asian bodies are not meant for contact sport football is still prevalent. That is why, Asians, especially South Asians play gentlemen’s game. This thought or narrative must be broken. South Asia has to gain an icon like Pele, Maradona or Messi who will attract a generation towards football. There is a whole world outside of cricket. But this won’t be easy.
India captain Sunil Chetri has said that other Asian nations like Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran and Uzbekistan are all better players than us. Good news is that for 2026 world cup, 3 more spots are open for Asian nations so statistically that improves chance of qualification. But there are China and Vietnam in the race too.
There isn’t any quick solution to it. Sachin Tendulkar alone cannot win the match. Kylian Mbappe cannot alone win the match, Messi cannot alone make Argentina the champion of FIFA World Cup. League matches need to be improved, more money needs to be shell out, still there is no guarantee that we will have world class players.
If football culture in Bengal, Kerala, Goa is appreciated and encouraged, if there is no politics in the sport then we can try to qualify for the world cup. Till then, we will have to support Argentina or France.
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