Indian football's technical director Rob Baan on Friday said the country should be ashamed of its 168th place in FIFA rankings and work hard to plug the gaping holes in various aspects of the game.
Addressing a panel discussion on 'Mission Rank 100: Myth or Reality?' organised by FICCI, Baan said India will have to focus on grassroot and infrastructure development if it wants to rise in FIFA rankings.
"We should be ashamed of the low rankings. A country like Iceland, which has around 60,000 population are ranked around 60 in FIFA charts and India is now at 168th. We have just 114 points and it is so much less in numbers," said Baan in perhaps the strongest comment about Indian football after taking charge in October last year.
"We should not find excuses. We lost to Singapore 0-2 in the international friendly and it means we were not good enough. We have a lot of work to do and there are so many gaping holes," said Baan who has served as assistant coach of the Netherlands and technical director of the Australian team.
National players have been saying that the team is much better than the 168th rank but Baan said FIFA rankings give a general picture of the standard of football in a country.
He also felt that India would take time to break into the top-100, an opinion different from national goalkeeper Subrata Pal who had recently said that the country could do so in 18 months by playing frequent international matches.
"FIFA rankings in general give picture of the standard of football in a country. Spain is number one in FIFA rankings and rightly so. The Netherlands were second some time back and they were now pushed down to sixth after losing a few games," the 69-year-old Dutchman reasoned.
"It is possible we can be in top 100 by 2018. To do that we have to start work from the grassroot level. We have to focus on the youth development and infrastructure, academies, education of coaches," he said.
The Dutchman, however, said that choosing opponents was equally important to playing more international friendlies as no point would be gained by losing.
"You gain points by winning games. You cannot play Spain and lose 0-10. So you have to go step by step to rise in the rankings," he said.
Baan also said that Indian players lack in technique and they will have to be made used to a style suitable to them.
Asked about the Indian team's new style -- possession football with short passing -- advocated by him and coach Wim Koevermans, Bann said, "We saw too many long balls with short strikers upfront. We have to play possession football.
"You can't play tactical football without having technique. We lack in technique because you don't give kids the freedom to play in organised football," said Baan, who is the author of 'Master Plan -- Lakshya 2022' which aims at India qualifying for 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Baan also felt that I-League should be spread throughout the country to increase the talent pool in the country.
"In the I-League, too many teams are coming from a state. So it's important that quality teams come from all over the country in the I-League. Then we will have more players playing in top level football," he said.
Former AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco agreed with Baan that ranking generally gives a fair idea of the strength of a team but said sometimes it appears lopsided.
"Ranking gives a fair idea of the strength of a national team though sometimes it appears lopsided. Countries like Afghanistan, Nepal and Maldives are above India but India have beaten them in the last three-four years on many occasions.
"One thing is that the FIFA ranking takes into account the performance of a country for the last four years. So you have to play enough matches and win also," said Colaco who is currently the General Secretary of South Asian Football Federation.
Colaco, who served as AIFF General Secretary for nine years before stepping down in 2010, suggested that India should play more international friendlies which would be beneficial to the country in terms of gaining points and from the financial viewpoint.
"It's difficult to arrange international matches. You need to have the budget because you won't get from TV rights. You need to spend Rs 20-25 lakhs to host an international friendly. Some teams would also demand appearance fee from 50,000 to USD 200,000.
"You also have to ensure that the international matches are counted for FIFA rankings. Nehru Cup was not counted for rankings though India won it because Cameroon did not send their first team. Had it been counted, India would have risen eight to 10 places. India beat Qatar some time back but they (Qatar) fielded almost two different elevens in the two halves and so it was also not counted," he said.
"So I would suggest that India can play against South Asian countries and gain points by beating them. Financial spending also won't be that much," said Colaco.
He said that India should also aim to be among top 12 in Asia from the current 31st spot.
"If the aim is to be to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, India should try to be in top 12 in Asia. If you are in top 12, you will play only one or two big teams in your group in the qualifiers. Now we have to play against three higher-ranked sides in a group," Colaco said.
I-League Chief Executive Officer Sunando Dhar said that FIFA ranking system was very complicated but felt that there was difference in standard between countries in top 100 and below.
"It's very complicated. It is debatable which team is better among countries in lower rung, say below 150. But it is obvious that there is a gulf of difference between a team say India in 168th and a country in top 100. Teams in top-100 are different," he said.