As 2012 is marking the platinum jubilee year of AIFF, it was expected that there would be some footballing powerhouse participating in this edition of Nehru cup. Previously, it was expected that Cameroon, Kenya, Syria and Maldives were going to take part in this year’s Nehru Cup along with host India. But the plans had to be changed at last moment as Kenya withdrew their name from Nehru Cup. Kenya was replaced by Nepa. There was further turmoil over the participation of captain and star player Sunil Chettri although now he is in the squad. The only international tournament which AIFF hosts is definitely not at the best of the shapes at this moment. There was a huge hue and cry that Nehru cup has lost its glory but is there any significance of having only glory without results and proper managing of the tournament?
Nehru gold cup started with a motto to make Indian football fan familiar with world class football standard and to give our boys a chance to have a hand on experience of world football. So AIFF used to invite top ranked team of world football to participate in Nehru Cup. Previously Uruguay, Argentina, China took part in Nehru cup with their first tier team. India always put up a spirited performance against such footballing power houses but the ‘played well and lost‘ tag was always there. Back in 2007 when AIFF resumed Nehru cup, the former Indian coach Bob Houghton advised that the opponents should be second or third tier teams that India can compete evenly and gain some match wining confidence. Bhaichung Bhutia brigade took full advantage of that and won back to back Nehru cup titles in 2007 and in 2009. However the decision of inviting relatively feeble teams were not welcomed by all. Bob’s idea was criticized specially by 1980’s footballers who played against Argentina, China or Uruguay in Nehru cup. Let’s have a reality check on this issue.
Inviting footballing giants from Latin America or Europe will definitely boost up the popularity of the game in this country as a huge section of youth follows international football but they lack interest in domestic football. Crowd, media attention and stadium make over will come hand in hand if footballing super powers come to play in India. We have witnessed a rapid makeover of Yuva Bharati Krirangan when Leo Messi’s Argentina took on Venezuela in Kolkata last year. So the stadiums’ condition will improve consequently. But are we ready to face such teams right now? Taking on Bayern Munich or some similar team in a friendly game is not a real test of our level. Playing against such teams once in a year will not help to improve the level also. The result could be the disaster and the side effects could be long lasting. It can generate a wrong impression among both the young stars and the football followers which will be harmful for the popularity of the game among youth. There will be negative effect in FIFA rankings also.
So, the big question is – Since India played against relatively inferior opponents in last two edition of Nehru cup and managed to win the titles, have we witnessed any significant change in the scenario? Though the level did not improve a lot but India got some much better results and won AFC challenge cup too where the opponents standards are more or less same. Hence, selecting same standard of opponents produced results and the theory actually worked decently.
Nehru Cup 2012
Now let’s have a look on this year’s participants. This year’s opponents are a mix bag of superior and mediocre opponents. Cameroon is obviously the superior challenger, while Syria and Maldives are of similar standard to India. There is speculation about Cameroon’s seriousness towards Nehru Cup too. Cameroon has not sent a full-fledged first choice team . Still Cameroon will definitely start as favorite but the host will try to defend their title with mixed squad of experienced and young players under their new coach Wim Koevermans. The last international tournament i.e. AFC Challenge Cup was a total failure under Savio Medeira. This Nehru Cup is going to be the first test for newly appointed coach Wim Kovermans. The morale of Indian players will be very high as captain Sunil Chettri signed a contract with Sporting Club de Portugal, team India goalkeeper Subrata Paul undergone a trial with German side Rb Leipzig and the under-22 boys did very well in U-22 Asian championships. However, India has every right to be optimistic with players like Sunil Chettri, Subrata Paul, Gouramangi Singh, Mehtab Hossein, Rahim Nabi are in top form; youngsters like Jewel Raja, Raju Gaikwad, Alwyn George, Manandeep are improving rapidly. India will have a real balanced squad this time and the presence of Koevermans as national coach will surely have some impact on the team. This edition of the Nehru cup is going to be a real test for India and could be a turning point for this generation of players. After the failure in AFC challenge cup in Kathmandu it’s the time to prove. Best of luck to blue tigers.