New Delhi: The draw against Asian champions Qatar in the World Cup qualifier saw pundits and football fans across the country hailing the Blue Tigers. While the top-class show against the highest ranked Asian outfit came as a pleasant surprise, the question that followed was whether the Indian team can consistently replicate such a performance against other top footballing nations. And former Indian midfielder Jo Paul Ancheri believes they can thanks to the Indian Super League (ISL).
Speaking to IANS, Ancheri said that the reason behind the Indian team doing well against a champion team like Qatar and before that against Oman - India were leading before conceding two goals in the 82nd and 90th minutes - is the influx of quality foreign players in the ISL.
"Earlier, you had a few quality foreign players. But with ISL, a lot of big foreign names started coming and a momentum was created. The game since then taken shape in the country. Why do you think the Indian team is playing good football? It is because good players are coming here and the competition is tough and the Indians are also improving as they look to compete with the best.
"That contest in the ISL prepares the Indian players to face any other country. According to me, that is why we did so well against Qatar," he pointed.
But lack of quality strikers post Sunil Chhetri is what worries Ancheri. "I don't see a player in the Under-20 or Under-23 team who can take over from him. Though Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua are there, we need to find strikers who can score regularly. We can defend very well. We can send passes, but the problem is scoring," he said.
Ancheri said that the clubs not backing Indian strikers is undoubtedly one of the reasons behind the country's failure to produce goal scorers at the top.
"An important factor is that most of the clubs have foreign strikers and that is one of the reasons that Indian strikers are not getting a chance," he explained.
While he is happy with the show put on by Gokulam FC to win the Durand Cup, Ancheru feels more tournaments need to be organised to encourage youngsters in his home state Kerala to take to the beautiful game.
"Gokulam and Kerala Blasters have once again put Kerala on the football map of India. While they were not winning trophies initially, (Gokulam) winning the Durand is a good step forward. Both Gokulam and Kerala Blasters have started giving local boys the required opportunity.
"I think there are at least seven local boys in Kerala Blasters and around nine to 10 local players in Gokulam,” he said.
"See, the main problem is, there aren't too many tournaments and the local leagues are not that competitive. The players are not getting match exposure. There is a serious dearth of proper grounds also. However, despite all the odds, currently we have three players -- Sahal Abdul Samad, Ashique Kuruniyan and Anas Edathodika -- in the national team and that is a good sign."