The 2018 Intercontinental Cup was a wake-up call for Indian football fans. It re-emphasised the fact our country can be adept at football too. Would you care to cheer for the Indian footballers?
Indian captain Sunil Chhetri had put up a plea requesting us to come out and support the team. What unfolded after this was nothing short of a movie filled with drama, emotions and much more.
This is nothing but a small plea from me to you. Take out a little time and give me a listen. pic.twitter.com/fcOA3qPH8i
— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) June 2, 2018
And out we went. The stadiums were full during all of India’s matches – and the fans cheered like crazy. Even the rain didn’t prove to be a dampener for us. A layman could have easily confused these for cricket stadiums.
After Chhetri’s video went viral, the media too began reporting about the record that he was about to achieve. Before that, perhaps only a handful of people knew that the captain would be playing his 100th match in the Indian jersey. Astonishingly, in the final, Chhetri equalled Lionel Messi’s tally of goals scored for their country.
Chhetri is indeed a legend – and for good reason. India won both their matches against Kenya mainly due to the efforts of this talismanic striker. And for a change, the 7 PM news flash on the channels was about a ‘Chak De!’ moment in a football stadium, and not on a cricket ground.
On the flipside, however, Stephen Constantine, the Indian team’s coach, felt that there was no reason for the captain to beg people to attend the match. He said, “I don’t feel we should be begging people to watch the national team. The response has been unbelievable. When the national team has been playing the manner we have been playing in the last three years it was disappointing to see the turnout in the first match. I expect the stands to be full in the next two matches.”
In a way, I too feel the same. Nobody wearing that blue jersey should ever have to beg for the nation’s support. If they end up begging for support, it means that the nation has failed them. In my opinion, we have been blindfolded by cricket to the extent that national-level players in other sports have to put up a plea for our support. Be it in any game, I believe the team’s performance should be enough to pull people to the stands.
Three years ago, India had slipped to 173, its lowest position ever. Today, India ranks 97, three places above the 100 milestone. This improvement took place in front of empty stands. If a team can do this without their citizen’s support, can you imagine what the team can pull off with the wholehearted support of its fans?
Some people were quick to point out that India won the cup since it played against comparatively weaker teams. There’s certainly some strength in this argument. Kenya’s current FIFA ranking is 112. Chinese Taipei stands at 123, while New Zealand ranks 120 in the standings. The rankings are a testimony to the fact that we played against teams which are way behind us. Undeniably, the Intercontinental Cup cannot be the best judge of the Indian side. They need to maintain the winning streak and prove their mettle in bigger tournaments in front of the best teams.
In that context perhaps, Chhetri’s second goal against Kenya can’t just be called just a match-winning goal. It was a goal aimed at the heart of Indian football. A goal for the future of the game on Indian turf. A goal for one nation, one team, one dream. All eyes are now set on the Asia Cup.