New Delhi: It seemed like a case of one step forward and two steps back for Indian football in 2006, which could not capitalise on the positive momentum generated last year. India, which leapt to 117th spot at the turn of the year 12 months ago after the triumph at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup in Pakistan, plunged to 157th by the end of 2006 after forgettable outings in the Asian Cup qualifiers and the Doha Asian Games. However, the All India Football Federation seems to be living in some other world, as it is still talking in terms of World Cup qualification in 2010 and 2014. A change of coach and high-profile agreements with two footballing powerhouses did little to redress the despair of Indian football fans, who have almost resigned to the dismal fate of the national team. The year started with India finding itself grouped with defending champions Japan and continental powerhouses Saudi Arabia, as well as Yemen, in the Asian Cup qualifiers. Not even the die-hard Indian fans would have expected the team to come through such a tough pool, but the display of Syed Nayeemuddin's side in the first two matches of the campaign left the public as well as the AIFF searching for answers. Insipid performance The team started with a 0-6 defeat at the hands of Japan in Yokohama. The result was not totally unexpected and it only showed the gulf between India and the top teams in Asia. But the next game really left a bad taste in the mouth. Playing at Delhi's Ambedkar Stadium, India went down 0-3 to a lower-ranked Yemen. The display by the team was so insipid that the team management was left bereft of answers. The performance again brought to the fore the rift between the coach and captain Baichung Bhutia, which was papered over when Nayeem took the reins for his third term. The shoddy performance was instrumental in Nayeem and the entire technical committee, including manager and former stalwart P K Banerjee, being shown the door by the Federation. The AIFF this time decided to go for a foreign coach and signed a deal with Englishman Bob Houghton, who had taken China to the World Cup finals and also been at the helm with Uzbekistan. Houghton stressed on the importance of bigger physique and roping in good players of Indian origin playing abroad as a possible route to success at the international level. His first assignment with the India was a four-team invitational tournament in Canada, where the Indians lost to Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the opening game before defeating the Chinese U-20 team to finish third in the competition. When India returned to the Asian Cup qualifiers, they put up a much better performance against Saudi Arabia while going down 0-3 in Kolkata. But all the good work came unstuck when Houghton's men were thrashed 7-1 in the return leg at Jeddah.
Topics : Football