Bleak performance mars football in 2004

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> After a brief flirtation with hope for two seasons, Indian soccer standards went downhill in 2004.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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New Delhi:

After a brief flirtation with hope for two seasons, Indian soccer standards went downhill in 2004. The also came to a chilling end with the tragic on-field death of Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. If 2002 and 2003 rekindled optimism for a turnaround in the country's soccer fortunes under the Anglo-Cypriot chief coach Stephen Constantine, the outgoing year gave a rude jolt to the rising expectations. National squad tumbles The national squad stumbled from match to match-suffering one humiliating loss after another. In 2002, after Constantine took over, India emerged surprise champions in the LG Cup in Vietnam before narrowly missing a last eight berth in the Asian Games. The following year saw India finishing runners up in the first ever Afro-Asian Games with the colts winning a rare trophy in the British Isles and returning good performances in Asian age group tourneys. But 2004 proved anti-climactic. India failed to bag the gold in their favourite hunting ground -- the SAF Games -- and bowed out as usual in the first round of the World Cup qualifiers, but not before facing ignominous defeats against Japan and Oman that led to the call for Constantine's scalp. Junior shock However, it was the death of the highly talented Junior in the Federation Cup final that came as the biggest shock. It brought out into the open yet again the absence of even basic facilities in Indian soccer and made international headlines forcing world governing body FIFA and Asian Football Confederation to take note of the tragedy. Accusations flew thick and fast about Mohun Bagan custodian Subrata Paul's responsibility in the striker's death. It was at the SAF Games in Islamabad that the downslide started. The Indians, missing a host of stars due to injury, managed to claim only the silver finishing second best to arch-rivals Pakistan in the final. India drubbed The World Cup preliminaries saw India being drubbed 1-5 by Oman and humiliated 0-7 by Asian powerhouse Japan. They put up a gritty opening half display against Japan in the first half of the home leg in Kolkata but in the end lost 0-4. A 1-0 win over Singapore at Goa and a goalless draw versus Oman in Muscat were the only silver lining for the Indians who conceded as many as 18 goals in their six outings. The World Cup disappointment was matched by a dismal LG Cup show in Vietnam, where India had scripted a fantastic title finish in 2002. India crashed out at the semi final stage going down 0-4 to a Korean University selections team after having lost 1-2 to Vietnam. A 2-1 win over a weak Myanmar side was the only saving grace for the side led by Bhaichung Bhutia. Bhutia, incidentally, had a poor season having to cool his heels on the benches for the major part of the year following recurring injuries. (PTI)

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