I grew up in India for a few years before moving to Canada in 1995. I remember from my years in India that people love the sport of soccer. It is quite popular but less popular than the national pastime cricket. India has never qualified for a FIFA World Cup Championship yet. My prayer to the soccer gods is “Soccer Gods Have Mercy!! India should be able to qualify for the World Cup at least once in the coming few years!!”
I recall people love playing soccer and watching soccer on television in India. I was there for the 1990 Italian FIFA World Cup and the 1994 US FIFA World Cup. These two championships took place in Italy and then the USA respectively. People loved watching these World Cups on television in India. I remember watching several matches in both these Cups on TV. It was great to see teams from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and other countries perform so well. There were so many teams in both these championships. I had a lot of fun watching these very high quality soccer games on an international level. I kept thinking ‘Why is India not participating? Why did they not qualify?”
So many children play for fun there. A lot of children play it at schools. Then as they grow up there must be thousands and thousands of young players at universities as well as the district and state levels. When the national team is selected it is selected with a lot of rigour and results. The national team is good at the South Asian level and decent at the Asian level but not good enough to qualify for a World Championship. There have been great players in recent times such as Baichang Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri but the national team would need at least 10 or more such players to make a mark and potentially qualify for the World Cup.
I remember there were such good soccer clubs such as Mohan Bagan, Mohammadan Sporting, etc. They had good local Indian players as well as some excellent foreign players.
Whenever a FIFA World Cup would start, people in India would pick a team they liked and support them throughout the championship. I remember many people would like the Brazilian team; others would like the German team. Indian fans were so good; it seemed as if they were truly global soccer fans.
I believe the Indian national soccer team was good at the Asian level in the 1950s. It was the Asian Games in the 1950s and the Indian team was selected to participate as they had qualified that year. The rule was that all players needed soccer shoes to play in individual matches in the tournament. For some reason not all players could get soccer shoes and eventually the Indian team could not participate in the soccer tournament of the Asian Games that year. Nowadays it is different. National team members now have good soccer shoes and they are supported well by the Soccer Federations.
I think the Ministry of Sports has a good plan for the improvement of soccer nationally. The plan should have one future goal for sure amongst its other goals: for the Indian national team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in one year in the future. It may seem a near impossible task now but with proper steps and a good direction it can be worked towards. The Indian national team with more support will have to keep on playing more international championships and getting better on an overall basis so that they can improve their world ranking and performance in such championships. These potential changes would be critical towards achieving the goal of qualifying for a FIFA World Cup in the future.