India to the World Cup? Gouramangi Singh says concentrate on Asian Cups first
In the running to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, India have only played in the elite Asian football competition just four times since 1964.
Former Indian football team captain Gouramangi Singh thinks in order to realise India’s long-term goal of playing the FIFA World Cup, the Blue Tigers need to first establish themselves at the highest level by playing in the AFC Asian Cup regularly.
Gouramangi, the All India Football Federation’s Player of the Year in 2010, was a regular fixture in India’s defence from 2006 to 2013 and was a part of several triumphs, including multiple Nehru Cups, SAFF Championships and the 2008 AFC Challenger Cup.
“The World Cup is a long-term project but I think we are now on the right track. We have to keep focusing, keep trying to feature at the AFC Asian Cup every four years,” Gouramangi told the AIFF.
“That should be our immediate target which we can use to build on. We have to keep working hard and be in the top 10 in Asia,” the Manipuri defender added.
India first played in the AFC Asian Cup in 1964. Led by Olympian Chuni Goswami, the Indian team finished runners up to hosts Israel.
However, since then India have managed to qualify for only three editions – 1984, 2011 and 2019.
Asian Cup qualification in 2011 a turning point
Gouramangi was a part of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup squad and played a pivotal role in helping end the nation’s 27-year-long wait to get back among Asia’s elites.
Playing in the Asian Cup is also regarded as one of the turning points for modern Indian football.
“The 2011 Asian Cup made us realise that we can do it - hang in there with those top teams. The belief, the confidence - everything was at a high,” Gouramangi noted.
Even though India failed to qualify for the 2015 tournament, Sunil Chhetri and Co. returned to the competition in the 2019 edition in UAE, narrowly missing out on a place in the knockout stages.
The current national team, coached by Croatian World Cupper Igor Stimac, is presently vying to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
India is also in the running to host the competition in 2027. If chosen, the Indian football team will automatically get a spot in the tournament as the host nation.