The Indian football team is going through a rough patch, presently. With a FIFA ranking of 117, this has been the lowest-ever ranking since 2017. India had earlier jumped to rank 96 after good performances in the SAFF Championships 2023, Hero Tri-Nation Cup 2023 and Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023.
This abysmal turnover happened after India’s poor performances in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 and the Asian Games 2022. India had progressed to the Round of 16 in the game versus Saudi Arabia in the Asian Games 2022 but were dominated by Saudi Arabia and the scoreline read 0-2.
Post that, most recently, India had a harrowing AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign. India were blanked in all 3 of their group-stage matches and bowed out of the tournament with 0 wins, 0 points and most shockingly, 0 goals.
Former Indian captain and the present AIFF Executive Committee Member, Bhaichung Bhutia, has pinned the entire blame of this debacle on the office bearers of AIFF, which is the apex body of football in India.
“The Asian Cup and Asian Games were the two most important tournaments for us and AIFF really messed it up. The team went without preparation to the Asian Games. There was no coordination with clubs ahead of that competition and Shaji was then the secretary-general. Without proper preparation again, a team was sent to Asian Cup from where we returned without scoring a goal,” said Bhaichung Bhutia to Hindustan Times.
“It is not the fault of the players or the coaches. Poor planning is the fault of the AIFF management. They could not give the squad time to prepare,” he added.
Bhaichung Bhutia also labelled Shaji Prabhakaran as a scapegoat of AIFF. Notably, Shaji was sacked as the secretary-general of AIFF in November 2023 and AIFF labelled their decision as a “breach of trust”.
“The breach of trust is not by Shaji alone, so don’t try to make him a scapegoat. From the time, the new committee was formed (September 2022 when Chaubey beat Bhutia 33-1 in the AIFF election), three people have taken most decisions. So, if AIFF has to sack Shaji, it should also sack the president and treasurer,” Bhutia told Hindustan Times.
India had a disappointing AFC Asian Cup 2023
The gulf between the other sides in Asia and India were exposed in the AFC Asian Cup 2023. India first were steamrolled past Australia in the first game, 0-2. The Blue Tigers then lost at the hands of Uzbekistan, 0-3.
Post this, India suffered a humiliating 0-1 loss against the war-torn country of Syria. India failed to score a single goal in the entire tournament in what possibly can be skipper Sunil Chhetri’s last continental tournament.