THE race to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia has already entered the home straight and Qatar have rekindled their hopes by defeating Syria, their first victory, in the previous week. With six more matches to be played and 18 points up for grabs, anything is possible, especially in a sport like football. I don’t want to risk any prediction. Let the story unfold naturally!
Be that it may, there’re many football lovers in our country who’ve already started thinking about the 2022 World Cup. Outwardly, it may appear that, with six years left, there’s a long way to go. But in reality, it’s round the corner. No one is worried about Qatar meeting the infrastructure requirements for the mega event. Stadiums, metro, highways, hotels etc can be built by then. To be fair to the country’s planners, work on most of these projects is in progress.
The World Cup isn’t merely about stadiums and other facilities. It’s much more than that. Yet, no one doubts our organisational capabilities and everybody knows Qatar would deliver a memorable World Cup.
Unfortunately, the same confidence isn’t generated when it comes to the national team. There’s a saying that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. I’m not intending we haven’t done any planning, but the recent performances of some of our age-group sides remind us of the need to put in a lot more hard work.
It’s encouraging to see our Under-19 boys starting the continental title defence with a draw against Iran and win over Yemen, but the U-16 team’s failure to qualify for the final of Asian Championship, which got over in India recently, is a matter of concern. Players graduating from these teams, along with some from the U-23 squad, should form the nucleus of our 2022 World Cup side.
With the country’s clubs failing miserably in developing young national players, the whole responsibility is shouldered by the ASPIRE Academy. This situation has to change. We should either set up more such facilities or youth development has to be made more broad-based. Developing youngsters is the key to build a strong national team and this has to be a continuous process. The earlier we start, the better.