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The Indian football team’s losses in World Cup qualifiers against Iranin Tehran and Turkmenistan in Kochi went almost unnoticed amidst the hype of the ICC World T20. India lost 0-4 to Iran on March 24 and 1-2 to Turkmenistan on March 29. No one can claim to be surprised by the two results.

Before the Indian team’s departure for Tehran, national coach Stephen Constantine admitted that fitness levels of his players kept him a “bit worried”.

“We have conducted some tests and the fitness levels are not very encouraging. All I can say is that players need to be in a better condition than they are,” he went on to say.

But the question is, being the head coach, why didn’t he take better care of the 22 players who were selected, so that they remain fully fit? Why is the bench strength so poor? If key players like Sunil Chhetri or Robin Singh get injured, India hardly has any replacement.

The I-League being India’s premier football competition, players are expected to play all the matches, if not unavailable otherwise. So also the AFC matches. What is causing a huge problem is the ISL, which is an independent league without much of a context in India. This three-month-long tournament is harming Indian footballers by giving them no time to recover.Most of the players who were in the national team were playing the I-League before the Iran and Turkmenistan matches. They have also been playing for their Indian Super League (ISL) sides and some of them have even had to turn up for their clubs in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournaments. With such a hectic schedule, injuries cannot be ruled out.

The I-League is also suffering because of the ISL, which is played ahead of the premier domestic tournament, making life hard for footballers.

Who is to blame for this? The All India Football Federation (AIFF)? Who gave the go ahead to the ISL without considering its negative impact on the national team? The players know that this league (ISL) is not going to help them in any way except in monetary terms, but are ever ready to join the league, may be to play alongside world-renowned players and get international recognition and some extra money.

Whatever be the reason, the national team is suffering. Camps could not be arranged as ISL franchises did not release players (though they say they have been following FIFA guidelines on releasing players for national duty) and taking a cue from them, the I-League clubs are doing the same.

Most players come to the national camp with niggling injuries. The results are there for all to see. India has started losing to teams below it in FIFA rankings. Forget about competing against higher-ranked ones.

 

(Via India Today)

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