BENGALURU FC failed in their quest to become the first Indian club to win an Asian title, losing 0-1 to Iraq’s Air Force Club in the AFC Cup final at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium last week.
The club, founded in 2013 and named after the south Indian city in Karnataka, was looking for an unprecedented continental title, but in the end their hopes were dashed by a Hammadi Ahmed goal in the second half.
Yet, the achievement will surely boost Indian football, which has no major success after their third-place finish at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1970.
Bengaluru’s qualification for the final was an epochal moment for India which was labelled a ‘sleeping giant’ by former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter way back in 2007.
And present FIFA chief Gianni Infantino gave the country full marks for being a ‘passionate giant’, lauding its football promotion and protection of historic clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting, during his recent visit to the country.
However, the success by its clubs and national teams have not been that encouraging in recent years.
When India qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha after a gap of 27 years, it was heralded as a new beginning. However, it came to nothing.
“Bengaluru’s AFC Cup campaign created a huge buzz back home. It feels good to be a part of it. I hope the success will surely revive Indian football,” Bengaluru captain Sunil Chhetri told Doha Stadium Plus.
Next year, India will host the FIFA Under-17 World Cup which, according to Infantino, will usher a new beginning for them.
India turned out to be a market with huge potential after the launch of Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, played from October to mid-December.
ISL franchisees hired famous names like Zico, who had spent two seasons at Al Gharafa, Nicolas Anelka and Alessandro del Piero in the first edition to boost teams, but the tournament only attracted the interests of investors and overlooked the development work.
There is a lot of buzz around the FIFA competition, but how it is going to help the sport remains to be seen. With some of the traditional clubs being at loggerheads with the All India Football Federation for promoting ISL over national competition I-League, things have turned topsy-turvy.
However, Bengaluru’s achievement is certain to infuse a renewed vigour into the game in India.
“Indian football is alive and kicking. They need to achieve a level that matches the best,” said Bengaluru coach Alberto Roca. DSP