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Subheading: The Highs and Lows of Indian Football

During the Intercontinental cup held in Mumbai in 2018, Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian football team, had to beseech Indians to come watch the football match and cheer for our fellow players. This comes out as a desperate move, right? Unfortunately, this is the result of the appalling truth of the football culture in India. While cricket matches held outside of India still attract large crowds, the attendance at football matches is significantly lower. Have you ever witnessed the media’s ecstasy when the Indian football team wins a match in the Asian cup? Currently, football is vastly overshadowed by cricket, kabaddi and hockey. Football culture in India is growing and becoming more established, but it still has a long way to go to match the popularity of other sports.

India's football story begins before our independence, when the British government established some of the world's earliest football clubs and competitions. Calcutta FC was the first football club to be founded in 1872, whereas Mohan Bagan AC, Asia's oldest team, was founded in 1889. In what was a watershed moment in Indian sport, Mohan Bagan became the first all-India football side to win the IFA trophy, defeating East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in the final. The All India Football Federation was created in 1937 to oversee football issues in India, and it became associated with FIFA in 1947, the year India gained independence.

Due to the withdrawals of other Asian sides, the Indian squad qualified by default for the World Cup in Brazil in 1950. The 1950 FIFA World Cup was India's lone opportunity to compete in the world's largest football tournament, but the country declined. According to rumors, the group was refused permission to compete because they wished to compete barefoot. Sailen Manna revealed that they were entirely focused on the Olympics at the moment. The team would not compete in the World Cup due to "disagreements over team selection and insufficient preparation time," according to AIFF. Cup. Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain: the Indian players' unwillingness to play in shoes was never the root of the problem. It is something the country laments, as India has yet to play at the highest level of football 68 years later.

India's golden years in football were from 1951 to 1962, when they competed for and won many trophies, including two Asian Games gold medals. However, since they failed to keep up with the rest of the world's tactical and physical advancements, Indian football has underperformed ever since.

Football in India must confront a number of important obstacles that are impeding its growth and fan popularity. One of the most significant obstacles is a lack of infrastructure, since specialist sectors and training facilities are not as easily accessible as they are in other nations. Furthermore, cricket receives significantly more media attention than football, limiting the sport's exposure and potential to acquire new followers. In India, cricket has a lengthy history and strong cultural roots, but football has failed to gain the same degree of recognition and support. Economic reasons play a role as well, with cricket perceived as a more profitable sport, garnering more investment and sponsorship opportunities. The national football team has not achieved the same degree of success as the cricket team did, limiting the sport's recognition and popularity. Finally, mismanagement within the All India Football Federation and state football organizations, including charges of corruption and a lack of openness, has hampered the sport's development in India.

These challenges deeply affected the status of Indian football, resulting in its poorer standing in contrast to other teams throughout the world. Compared to other top football-playing countries such as Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina, India still has a long way to go in terms of infrastructure development and national team competitiveness. The Indian football squad was not nominated for the 2022 FIFA World Cup since it did not match FIFA's qualification standards. Teams must play well in their individual continental tournaments as well as the World Cup Qualifiers in order to qualify for the World Cup. The Indian team is presently rated 104th in the FIFA rankings, considerably behind the top 32 qualifying nations for the World Cup.

Despite this, there is a rising enthusiasm for football in India, especially among young people, as seen by an increase in the number of individuals participating in the sport and supporting local and international teams. The “All India Football Federation” was established to promote and develop football with the goal of enhancing the game's level and making football the most popular sport in India. This entails building infrastructure and giving assistance to players, coaches, and officials, as well as organizing and running national and international events. The Indian Super League has also helped to increase football's popularity in the country by giving a platform for elite Indian and foreign players to display their talent and raising the sport's reputation as a result. There are also some football teams in India with a huge and loyal fan following such as Kerala Blasters, ATK, and Quess East Bengal, and these clubs have contributed to an increasing sense of community and enthusiasm for the sport.

However, it is difficult to predict whether India will qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026, as there are many factors that will determine their chances of qualification. The World Cup qualification process is highly competitive, and many strong teams from around the world will be competing for a limited number of spots. India will need to show significant progress and improvement in terms of player development, coaching, and infrastructure in order to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup. The Indian national team will also need to perform consistently well in international competitions, such as the AFC Asian Cup, in order to boost their chances of qualification. Only time will tell whether they are able to achieve this goal, but with continued effort and investment in the sport, the future of Indian football looks bright.

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