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GOOD TIMES AHEAD? Indian football has a long way to go but efforts are on to raise the standards
GOOD TIMES AHEAD? Indian football has a long way to go but efforts are on to raise the standards

The AIFF hopes that the Indian team will qualify for the next World Cup

Two of Hyderabad's best-known former international footballers Victor Amalraj and Mohd Habeeb had recently been invited for a meeting arranged by the All India Football Federation. In the meeting, the AIFF outlined its project aimed at achieving the objective of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, 2010. Given India's present status, this may sound like a tall order but Amalraj feels it is a step in the right direction.Named Project World Cup, it aims at enabling the national side to qualify for the next edition of the world's most prestigious football tournament, which is to be held in South Africa in 2010. If the programme delivers the expected results, the President of the AIFF, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, is hopeful that India too will figure in the final rounds of the tournament. If India does not succeed by 2010, then the target will be the 2014 edition says AIFF's top boss. To launch the programme, the AIFF had invited former internationals from Bengal, Punjab, Kerala and Goa. Some of the best-known names of Indian football - such as Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, Gautam Sarkar, Prasun Banerjee, Inder Singh, Parminder Singh, Harjinder Singh, Mauricio Afonso, Jo Paul Ancherry, Derek Perriera and the current Indian super star Bhaichung Bhutia - were present along with delegates from South American countries."It was a great feeling to meet my old team mates and also my senior players," said Amalraj. "I feel that something has to be done to bring India back to its position in world football. Our first target should be to regain our position as one of the best teams in Asia and from there, launch a bid to take a qualifying slot for the World Cup from the continent," says Amalraj. He feels that with accurate planning and precise execution, it is not totally beyond the reach of this country. He says there are several positive indications now."The ongoing World Cup has caught the fancy of Indians and the matches are being watched in millions of homes across the country. Thanks to widespread media coverage, the popularity of the game as gone up immensely. Naturally, this will inspire youngsters to take up the sport. Sponsors also jump into the fray. So the conditions are right.""We need to build on these positive factors and give the game a big push. Development has to begin from the lowest levels and we have to encourage our children to take to the sport. If a country like Trinidad with its small population and limited resources can do it, why cant we?" asks Amalraj. ABHIJIT SEN GUPTA

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