It was 2017 when the decades old Indian National Team Invitational tournament – The Nehru Cup was revamped and renamed to ‘ Hero Tri-Nation Series ‘ (since only three countries participated). Later, during the last year, it was again renamed to Intercontinental Cup since it had the teams from 3 different confederations. The participants were India (97) the host, Kenya (112) from CAF, Chinese Taipei (121) from AFC and New Zealand (120) from OFC (FIFA rankings mentioned in the brackets are according to June 2018 rankings). South Africa was invited initially, but later the proteas withdrew and were replaced by Kenya from the same confederation. All in all, it turned out to be a fine exposure for the senior national team before the all important AFC Asian Cup 2019.
The Intercontinental Cup is back this year ! But, this time the name of the tournament isn’t matching with the teams invited, since all the teams participating are from one confederation (AFC) itself. The teams invited being – Syria (85), Tajikistan (120) & North Korea (122) will participate in the tournament kicking off from July 7th at the Transtadia, Ahmedabad. The CONCACAF, CONMEBOL & CAF are already busy with their respective continental showpiece envents, like we had 5 months before in our own confederation. So, it leaves us behind with AFC, UEFA, OFC & disqualified nations to their respective Confederation’s cup to choose from. Let’s now take a look at the potential teams which could have been invited by AIFF from these available options instead, to second second edition of 4 team invitational tournament of India.
5. Vietnam :
Recently broke into the top 100 in FIFA rankings, first time ever since 1998, Vietnam is the new ASEAN powerhouse in making. It’s the U-23 team of Vietnam which revived the Vietnamese football completely since last year. In contrary to the 2012s where they struggled even to make a mark in the ASEAN region. Vietnam for India could have been a very competitive side to face. The golden dragons as they are called, were the AFF Suzuki Cup Champions last year, prior to their dream run in AFC Asian Cup the immediate next year, where they reached to the quarterfinals and lost to almighty Japanese by just a goal to nil. The last time India met Vietnam was way back in 2010 where the blue tigers emerged victorious in a friendly match in India, all thanks to Chhetri’s hat-trick,which helped India to seal the win by 3-0 margin.
4. Gabon :
The Gabon National Football team is a part of the CAF (confederation of African football) confederation and has made 7 appearances in the Africa Cup of Nations. But for this year’s edition, the Les Panthères (The panthers) have failed to qualify for the African mega event which will be held 4 days from today & will end on 19th of July, exactly on the date when the Intercontinental Cup will end too. Since they didn’t qualify, India could have batted an eye on the strong and physique African nation which had the likes of Arsenal sensation – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and most capped Gabonese player – Didier Ovono (112 caps). Gabon was also invited by Thailand FA in 2018 for the 46th Kings Cup.
3. Georgia :
Along with AFC, the UEFA confederation will be idle too without any major tournaments running for the first few weeks at least in the month of July. Since, there is lot of happening in the European football these days and the nations league on top of that, it’s difficult to invite the teams from UEFA, but it’s not the case in the month of July, India could have sneaked into an opportunity to invite a team from UEFA for the Intercontinental Cup 2019. One such team was Georgia, the nation ranked just 7 places above us on 94th position in latest FIFA rankings, isn’t the best team to be selected from UEFA, but an easy nation to invite, since they will take the tournament seriously and will send their main team. It’s better to invite teams as such rather than inviting a strong European team and having to play B team of theirs instead. But, don’t let the rankings fool you. Georgia, has very recently beaten Kazakhstan comfortably by 2 goals to nil. Kazakhstan, who were once part of AFC confederation and were equally competitive as UAE and Uzbekistan of Asia. So, it’d have been another wise decision if AIFF had invited a team like Georgia from UEFA.
2. Uzbekistan :
Uzbekistan is yet another emerging giant of Asian Football. The 82nd ranked Central Asian sub-confederation team, have beaten the AFC Asian Cup winners Qatar by 2-0 margin last year and have played a 1-1 away draw vs Senegal, in a friendly last year as well. During this year’s AFC Asian cup, the Uzbeks went on to play the round of 16 and lost to Australia in penalities after 0-0 stalemate, which ended their AFC Asian Cup campaign. The White wolves as they are nicknamed, have been playing friendlies on consistent basis and getting some good results as well. The last time India played against Uzbekistan was ages ago, in 2001 where India lost by 2-1 margin, but that was 18 years ago. Unfortunately, India never saw Uzbekistan again in a friendly or even in a Qualifier tournament except for those various age group games. It would have been great to see Uzbekistan-India match, back after 18 long years.
1. Slovakia :
Currently, the world number 31 in the latest FIFA rankings, Slovakia is a sort of second tier European nation which has made only one appearance in the FIFA world cup so far (the only appearance was in 2010, where they progressed through group stage and made an exit in round of 16). They have also faced Jordan, during this month in an international friendly and won with a thumping margin of 5-1. Last year, along with Gabon, Slovakia were invited in 46th Kings Cup where they emerged as Champions after defeating hosts Thailand by narrow margin of 3-2 in the final. Inviting Slovakia to the Intercontinental Cup 2019, could have also fullfilled Igor’s wish of team India playing a friendly game against a strong European nation.
These were some of the Nations, that we feel should’ve been invited by AIFF. Not only these, there are many others, much more competitive and complete surprise package like Curacao whom we faced in the Kings Cup 2019.
What do you think ? Which countries could’ve been invited instead? Let us know in the comments section.