FIFA ranking rise shows India’s progress

FIFA rankings are not always given too much respect around the world, but wherever you go, there is plenty of criticism when a national team starts slipping down the ladder.

When things go well however, credit should be given.

India, the giant of South Asia, is seeing its standings head north at a rapid rate. In the space of a year, the national team has climbed from from 173 to 101. The rankings have risen faster than an Umesh Yadav bouncer in the world of cricket and this is a hugely creditable development. The sleeping giant of football is showing signs of stirring.

It has come off the back of six straight wins. Victories over Laos (twice), Bhutan, Puerto Rico and Cambodia has the confidence flowing. Indeed India have been victorious in 11 out of the last 13 games. Winning has become a habit.

The best of the lot came against Myanmar on March 28 in the opening game of the final round of qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup.

A trip to Yangon is tricky and many felt that the hosts would win. This is, however, a more streetwise Indian team these days. Myanmar may be improving by the year as an appearance at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup and the semi-finals of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup demonstrated. But India rode out the home pressure and took all three points thanks to a late goal from Sunil Chhetri.

Myanmar had plenty of the ball but it was India that had the know-how and the streetsmarts to take the victory.

For coach Stephen Constantine, this is the most satisfying aspect of the recent success and he is enjoying the rankings rise.

“I would be a bit happier if Bolivia didn’t beat Argentina, because then we would have been 97,” said Constantine, earlier this week. “Am I happy? Yes. Can we do better? Absolutely.”

Being part of a winning team is an attractive prospect said the coach.

“In the senior national team, we’ve players who’re killing themselves [for starting places]. We’ve three-four people who can play left-back, four-five who can play right-back. This is the competition you want. There’s no complacency in our team at the moment and I’m very proud of the boys.”

There has been plenty of pessimism around Indian football in the past but this is genuine good news. It is the sight of a national team heading in the right direction.

It gives confidence to a team that has, in the past, lacked that quality. Constantine’s comments show that there is a great feeling in the camp.

India are becoming hard to beat and this is a big deal indeed given that there has been a soft centre in the past. The wins over Cambodia and Myanmar in March could easily have been defeats with the two ASEAN teams on top for much of the 90 minutes.

Yet when it mattered, India did the damage and grabbed the win. Under Constantine, in his second spell in charge, India have become more ruthless and a little more streetwise.

As it now stands, India are 11th in Asia’s rankings. This is not an accurate reflection of the team’s continental standing. India may be progressing but the team is nowhere near that point at the moment. Yet the rankings give hope and confidence that the team can qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup. That has to be the target.

India may not be number 11 in Asia but it can find a place in the top 24 in 2019 and play in the continental tournament. FIFA’s rankings are nice but to change anything, this has to happen.

Without the 2019 Asian Cup appearance, the standings make for very encouraging reading but don’t mean much.

As a result fans should celebrate the rise off the pitch but real success can only be judged by whether the team appears at the 2019 Asian Cup. On current form, that should happen.