Friday, August 22, 2008

AFC Challenge Cup Winners!

I'm a few weeks late with this...I was 70 minutes late getting in front of a TV so missed most of that spectacular final. At least I did catch Sunil Chetri complete his hat-trick.

Shifting the final to Ambedkar in Delhi proved to be a sensible move and though the pitch was hardly Old Trafford, it was a big improvement from the stables at Hyderabad. Bob Houghton had gone on record in Hyderabad with hope for rain and more rain, as he felt his team was more suited to the Rugby-style goal getting than competition, but the display in the final showed that the men in blue were definitely the superior outfit in this battle of the minnows.

Bhutia - MVP and with an international goal-scoring record that would put the biggest strikers in Europe to shame, continues to be our talisman and though come 2011 he will be 35, one expects that he would still have a role to play when we reap the rewards of this amazing triumph.

It was Chetri however, who warmed the heart. Even before his sensational performance in the final, he had established himself as the goal-scoring successor to captain Bhutia, and the shifting of focus from BB to SC as the tournament progressed, is very good news for Indian football. Add to that his excellent media presence and I'm left surprised why a few weeks on from that triumph, we have not seen him being signed by some agency or another. Wonder if we can get Chetri a few years in a good league and I don't mean League One in England. A chance in the J-League or A-League would be good enough. I'm sure he has the quality, hope we can find a path for him before it is too late.

We now have three years to prepare ourselves for the bounty that this tournament win has provided us with - Asia Cup '11. We've won and celebrated and it's now time to buckle up, pull up our socks and set our sights on that tournament. It is important to keep focus and not get lost in cries of "Why are we not in the World cup" come 2010. In between we will play many more international games and will be able to blood many new players. We should meet stronger (much much stronger) opponents, and use any distractions like WC qualifiers as preparation for this event. In between we may also participate in the next AFC Challenge Cup and there we can field our juniors to see who could make the cut.

I don't know when Indian football was last in for such excitement. A major tournament to look forward to and three years to hone your skills. We have the perfect platform to get it right. At the end of the Asia Cup, I hope that we will have progressed far enough to break into the top 8 in Asia and will not need to play any more challenge cups. You may say I'm a dreamer.....

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