Mumbai: The term ‘sleeping giant’ is often used to describe Indian soccer and its massive potential talent pool, but national team coach Armando Colaco thinks officials have to wake up to the problems at grassroots level if India are to ever play in the World Cup finals.
The second-most populous nation in the world with 1.2 billion people ranks an embarrassing 147th in the latest Fifa rankings and despite winning two Asian Games gold medals and finishing fourth at the 1956 Olympics they have never appeared on soccer’s biggest stage.
India did qualify for the 1950 World Cup but withdrew because Fifa would not allow them to play in bare feet, although the cost of sending a team to Brazil may also have weighed heavily on the decision to withdraw.
Colaco, who was put in charge in May for four months to replace Englishman Bob Houghton, stressed the importance of educating coaches.
“The biggest problems in Indian football today are the (lack of) academies, the education of coaches along with the strength, nourishment, and the pace on the ball,” Colaco told Reuters in an email interview.
“We do need more and more academies to train the youngsters with basic technique requirements for modern football.
“It’s a pity that basics are not properly taught at the grassroots to the youngsters, which makes it difficult for them when they grow and that’s why coach education is very important.”
He added that the speed of the game was a real problem for India.
“To some extent, the football we play is okay but the pace is not there. We are not good enough with the strength and endurance and that is why we cannot play a fast paced game.”
Colaco, one of the country’s most successful club coaches, is realistic when asked about India’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup finals.
“I do not want anyone to misunderstand me when I say that we have to go a long, long way to qualify for the World Cup,” the coach from Goa said.
“We have to work hard on planning things for the next five-10 years...”
India face the United Arab Emirates (UAE), ranked 37 spots above them at No. 110, in their second round 2014 World Cup Asian qualifier and he was under no illusions how difficult the tie would be.
“Frankly speaking, a great mountain to climb against UAE in the world qualifiers. It’s a very strong team. They have been together for a very, very long time and played a lot of exposure matches,” he said.
“They are very aggressive and understand each other very well... We are working on some strategies/tactics especially, slowing down the pace of the game.
“We are not going to succumb to the pressure but will try our level best to show an improved performance in play.”
The 58-year-old took heart from India’s 2-1 victory over Qatar on Sunday and thinks the future is full of possibilities for his young side.
“I have made a beginning and these bunch of youngsters, along with the seniors which I have chosen, will definitely make a mark in Indian football,” he added.
India travel to the UAE for Saturday’s first leg, then host the second on 28 July.