'India's FIFA World Cup qualifying goal a pipe dream'
- Rs 20L seized from Ajit Chandila relative's home, another ex-cricketer held
- India and China ask SRs to work on more border steps
- Can't charge man with rape over consensual sex even if marriage eludes: Supreme Court
- Saudi Arabian authorities refuse to accept new Indian passports
- FIR filed against Facebook for not discontinuing hate page
Nobody said it to his face but when All India Football ederation (AIFF) president Praful Patel said last week India's goal was to qualify for the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, his sunny optimism bordered on grim absurdity.
With FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke sitting next to him, the AIFF chief announced it minutes before signing a 10-year agreement with soccer's governing body to develop the game in the world's second most populous nation enamoured otherwise with cricket.
"Indian football is poised for a big leap after a long period of hibernation," stressed Patel, also the India government's Heavy Industries minister.
"There's going to be a long time before India truly comes up to the expectations of the football-loving community of the country but one thing I must say is that we are certainly on the right track."
The timing of his remarks could not have been worse, coming on the same day India slumped to their lowest place, 169th, in the FIFA rankings.
The sport also remains popular only in certain geographic areas while the television appetite is restricted to the English Premier League or Spain's La Liga.
Patel, however, insisted the rankings were not the true reflection of India's team, who beat a second-string Cameroon team to win a five-nation tournament earlier this month and he remained optimistic FIFA's support would help develop the game.
Valcke also sounded convinced of soccer's potential in India.
"You are 1.2 billion people and it's impossible that 1.2 billion people are just playing cricket. There is definite space for football," Valcke said.
"Lack of infrastructure, a struggling national league, low television viewership and scant sponsorship mean it's easier said than done, according to a local soccer author. I think it was a populist statement," said Jaydeep Basu, who has authored Stories From Indian Football, an anecdotal history of the game in the country.
- Former Ranji player among 3 more held
- Rajasthan Royals to file FIR against tainted trio
- If found guilty, BCCI to ask ICC to erase Sreesanth records
- Top cops among 42 named in death of blast accused
- Manmohan-Li talks: PM takes tough line on incursion issue
- Security forces blame Maoists, villagers say CoBRA man was killed in 'friendly fire'