New Delhi: It’s seldom that we don’t hear some of the ex-players claiming that they played some great teams in the Nehru Cup with the likes of Uruguay, Iraq and teams from the Soviet Union coming over.
Even coach Bob Houghton acknowledged that the standard of the tournament is far from what it was when started. From 1998 to 2007, the Nehru Cup was under the wraps for whatever reasons.
Generally, the top Asian countries prefer to send their junior sides to tournaments which are ‘not that important’ for them. You see them sending their Olympic sides or the U-19 to give them the necessary exposure of playing at the top level, if we may consider it so.
While some may claim that such a high handed attitude isn’t good as it means not showing enough respect for the hosts and fellow participants. But the decision is at the end of the day with the top countries whether they want to send their senior teams or not. Generally, most hosts accept whoever comes from those ‘big’ names as it supposedly adds some glamour to the tournament. Meek behaviour, isn’t it?
The term ‘big’ used here could be relative with regards to the ranking of the participating nations and that of the host as well.
Even India in the past has sent a junior side to an international tournament. A 20 member U-20 side, with the exception of three players, went to the AFC Challenge Cup ’06 in Bangladesh where India bowed out of the quarters.
"The AIFF felt that by participating in this tournament, the U-20 players would gain experience at the international level. Junior teams from China, Korea and Japan regularly participate in senior tournaments. This gives them more exposure. We are trying something similar and this is the beginning of the experiments we need to do to push Indian soccer forward," the AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco was quoted saying.
Yes, India didn’t allow Thailand to use Nehru Cup for their experiments. Now, some may claim that it’s a double standard but it isn’t so. Every host nation has a right to accept or decline in order to ensure that the tournament is played between ‘men against men’ as opposed to ‘men against kids.’
If one does win such tournaments where the junior sides come, the glory doesn’t have the same importance as the critics are often heard saying: We know about the standard of the teams you won against.
Well, it’s not that the critics are entirely wrong. They do have a point or two. In order to shut them up and to guarantee that the tournament is being considered a serious one, it’s essential for all participating nations to come at full strength.
Now it might be that the junior sides of the big nations would give a tougher fight than some of their replacements, who come with their senior squad, but as said earlier, the tournament wouldn’t be as noteworthy.
It’s certainly a noble step by the Indian FA to get rid of the ‘Elephants’ and thereby, manage to arrange for the Palestinians on such a short notice. Though ranked 177 as compared to the 112 of Thailand, Palestine’s participation means you have the senior squad coming in.
By doing this, the message AIFF have sent out is loud and clear:
We are India, take us seriously!