When the football World Cup kicks off on June 9, 2006 with Germany taking on Costa Rica at the Munich FIFA World Cup Stadium, the action will be far away from south Asia, though all matches will be beamed live into homes across south Asia. At least for the moment the football World Cup remains a distant dream as no team from the region has ever got past the qualifiers stage. Arunava Chaudhuri tells us why.
Official poster of FIFA World Cup 2006
In the Asian qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup south Asian sides had a terrible outing. Bhutan did not want to take part in the qualifiers; Nepal pulled out at the last moment; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan didn’t even survive the knockout qualifier stage; while Sri Lanka and Maldives finished bottom of their qualification groups with India being the best performer finishing third in a group of four teams. No results to boast of, really, and one cannot predict with any confidence that a team from south Asia will make it to the World Cup finals soon.
While India’s 7-0 defeat away to Japan was a shocker it clearly showed the difference in standard of the game in the two countries. Japan had planned a top professional J-League for 10 years, developed the league for another 10 years before hosting the 2002 World Cup along with South Korea. Now they belong to the 20, maybe even 15 best teams in the world. And they will surely move closer to the world’s best in the coming years. Meanwhile in India, a lot of people still talk about the good old days when India used to play in the Olympics and ranked with the best in Asia. But that was in the 1950’s and the early ‘60s.
There was at least one positive result from the qualifiers, of course, that’s when the Maldives, a tiny island nation, held the 2002 World Cup co-hosts and semi-finalists South Korea to a goalless draw at home in Male.
With the qualifiers being so competitive and more than 200 nations from across the globe trying to qualify for the football World Cup, it has really become very difficult to make it to the final 32.
One can think nostalgically of the good old days when the football World Cup used to be invitational, where the football tournament in the Olympics was of greater importance. In 1950 the World Cup was held in Brazil and India was invited after some other nations decided not to play in the tournament. India was supposed to bring the Asian flavour.
For India it was a great honour to be invited to play in the football World Cup, which was a result of the stellar performance of the Indian national team at the 1948 London Olympics. India had lost 1-2 against the mighty French and had missed two penalties in the process. In the match against France, most of the Indian players had played barefoot. And that was going to be the deciding factor, whether India should play or not in the 1950 World Cup. World football governing body FIFA decided in 1950 to make it compulsory for all footballers to wear football boots during international matches. But Indian football’s governing body, the All India Football Federation, founded only a few years earlier in 1947, informed FIFA that its players would only play if they were allowed to play barefoot as they were used to. FIFA offered the Indians air travel with KLM from Delhi over Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro, but the AIFF without consulting their players or the national coach turned down the offer. This remains the biggest blunder in the history of Indian football. Whatever the results might have been in Brazil, Indians could have said, we have played at least once in the football World Cup.
So south Asia will continue to wait until a team from the region makes it to the finals. Realistically, it will take another three, maybe four World Cup’s until a south Asian team qualifies. And India remains the most likely candidate as south Asia’s strongest team.