Why do India and China, two of the biggest nations on Earth, repeatedly fail to deliver on the World stage?
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With the exit in the first group stage of both China and India at the AFC Asian Cup, questions are once again being asked about the long term viability of the sport in these huge developing nations. With a combined population of over 2.5 billion, it has long been thought that it was only a matter of time before these Asian powerhouses started to produce some eye catching results. The reality has however been very different.
The Indian team qualified for the tournament by virtue of winning the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, held bi-annually solely for Asia’s “emerging nations”. They won on home turf against the likes of Tajikistan, North Korea and Myanmar and though an achievement to qualify for only the second time, it always looked like being a step too far for the team currently ranked 144th in FIFA’s listing.
Qualification for China was via Group D. In this, they faced Syria, Vietnam and Lebanon where they finished runner-up to a Syrian team ranked 110th who beat them 3-2 in the group stage!
Though the Indian team’s qualification was greeted with pockets of optimism in the national press it was soon deflated when the draw was made. Pitted against the Asian might of Australia, South Korea and Bahrain the obituaries for Bob Houghton – The British born team coach – and his team were already being written. For China there was reason to be optimistic though. Drawn against Qatar, Kuwait and Uzbekistan, teams all ranked way below them, they were clear favourites to progress to the knock out stages, it was however not to be.
So what does the future hold for football in these huge nations and what are the underlying problems stopping two sport mad countries, producing players that can compete at the highest level? The obvious problem is a lack of facilities and quality coaching. In countries where land in the major cities is as expensive as anywhere on the planet, football pitches become a luxury developers can ill afford. Houghton who has coached the Chinese team as well as the Indian see’s the problem as being a lack of finance. “They will both come good eventually [China and India] but it won’t be because of the population. They are going to be very wealthy, and the spin off from that will mean that facilities will improve and better coaches will come”.
The worry is that in the short term the growth and interest in football without national success will dwindle, particularly in India where there is a growing feeling that football is on the rise and catching the number one sport cricket at a rate of knots. The TV viewing figures would also appear to back this up with the opening game of the FIFA World Cup last year attracting 20 million, while the opening game of the last edition of cricket’s premier tournament IPL attracting just 17 million.
In China, the main competition would appear to be coming from basketball. With them able to boast one of the NBA’s biggest stars – Yao Ming as their own, they have a natural talisman for the youth to follow. In India Cricket has the irrepressible Sachin Tendulkar and until football can produce a player to compete with these huge stars (out of the 46 players in the two squads at the Asian Cup only one player ply’s his trade in a European professional league) the fear is that the explosion of football may well come to a stuttering halt.
For China and India to become more than one of Asia’s “emerging nations” a revolution in the way the sport is administered has to happen and fast. A root and branch re structure of the game from grass roots level is needed in the way it was in Australia in the early nineties. With the right coaching, investment and facilities there is every reason to think that some real stars of the game could emerge over the next decade. Just don’t hold your breath!
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