x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Attention deficit for football in India

Against Maldives, India actually played well, with Sunil Chhetri scoring twice.

Wim Koevermans would have harboured no illusions about the job he took on when he arrived in India.

Last Sunday, his second match in charge, saw India put three goals past Maldives, a team that were seven places higher in the Fifa rankings (India were 168th) when the Nehru Cup, an invitational event in New Delhi, began.

Hardly anyone noticed. The following day, India's junior cricketers won the Under 19 World Cup. It was headline news around the country.

There was more interest in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday night than there was on a new chapter in India's football history. The topsy-turvy results give some clues as to why that's so. On the opening day of the competition, India saw off Syria, ranked 21 places above them, by two goals to one.

It was not a convincing display, with every sequence of five or six passes inevitably followed by an aimless punt that surrendered possession.

Against Maldives, India actually played well, with Sunil Chhetri scoring twice. With Baichung Bhutia having departed the international arena, Chhetri, who plies his trade with Sporting Lisbon's B team, is the new standard bearer and a diving header that completed the scoring gave a glimpse of his quality.

But in the next game, Nepal, who had earlier been thrashed by a team of unknowns from Cameroon, held India to a goalless draw. The lack of imagination and verve were pointers to the challenge Koevermans faces in a country in thrall to cricket - its icons, the IPL and even Under 19s.