AFC Asian Cup exit and India's football progress | Sportsmonks
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AFC Asian Cup exit and India’s football progress

AFC

India’s AFC Asian Cup Exit: Progress Under Stimac Amid Short-Term What-Ifs

In a heartbreaking exit, India bowed out of the AFC Asian Cup after a 1-0 loss to Syria. Despite the disappointment, coach Igor Stimac’s team showed progress against tough opponents. While the campaign had its what-ifs, with missed chances and decisive moments, it highlighted the growing competitiveness of Indian football. The focus now shifts to long-term planning and addressing areas for improvement to make a mark on the global stage.

The 2023 campaign, statistically worse than 2019, prompts discussions about Stimac’s future. However, a closer look reveals notable advancements. Facing strong teams like Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria, India displayed resilience, holding their own for 75 minutes in a bid for knockout stage qualification. The 2019 group, with UAE, Bahrain, and Thailand, pales in comparison. Stimac’s side faced tougher opponents, earning a commendable performance despite the zero-point outcome.

As India reflects on missed opportunities, questions arise about what could have been different. Moments like Sunil Chhetri’s header against Australia, early chances against Syria, and defensive lapses against Uzbekistan spark what-ifs. The absence of key players like Ashique Kuruniyan, Anwar Ali, and Jeakson Singh due to injuries adds another layer of speculation. The reality, though, is a challenging run of five losses in the AFC Asian Cup, marking a low point in India’s history.

The tournament emphasizes the broader challenges facing Indian football. Success in such competitions hinges on years of systematic development and a robust domestic setup. Omar Khribin’s clinical goal for Syria, a product of years of football education in Damascus, underscores the importance of sustained efforts and a well-established system. India’s progress relies on enhancing the domestic football structure to produce players capable of making decisive impacts in crucial moments.

Igor Stimac’s plea for the inclusion of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) players raises eyebrows, especially as Uzbekistan-produced talents dismantled India. The need for better player quality in the Indian Super League (ISL) becomes evident. The coach’s frustration with ISL teams not trusting Indian central strikers adds complexity to the discussion. While the results align with India’s 18th rank in Asia, the fourth-placed finish reveals a narrowing gap with the continent’s top teams.

Despite the setbacks, there is hope for Indian football. The upcoming opportunity to reach the third round of FIFA World Cup qualifying in March is a historic chance. The focus must now shift to bridging the existing gaps, fostering talent, and ensuring sustained progress. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Igor Stimac hold the key to extending India’s reach and making a stronger impact on the global stage.

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By- Sahiba Suri

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