With Japan stopped by Singapore in Saitama and Iran being held by Turkmenistan, it would have seemed like an underdogs’ day out in Asia’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers even otherwise. By beating India 2-1 Guam provided the guarantee.
In the landmass closest to the Mariana Trench, the world’s oceans deepest point, India plumbed a new depth in football.
Yes, there are six games to play and let’s not forget India did well against Oman but this result queers the pitch to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup finals.
To do that India must finish third in group D. Right now, with two defeats India are fifth and last.
With six points from two games, Guam lead the group ahead of Iran, a team against which Argentina won in the last World Cup only because of a piece of magic from Lionel Messi.
At 174, Guam went into the game 33 places below India in the latest Fifa rankings.
The difference between the average position in the Fifa rankings of the teams is 60 (India 133, Guam 193).
True, Guam fielded seven who play football in the USA — the country is a US territory. And, yes, this India team is seriously thin on experience but the result is still a pointer to the ever-widening gap between India’s best and the rest.
A little under two years ago an Afghanistan team comprising players from minor leagues across the world including the USA beat India to the SAFF Cup title in Kathmandu.
In that competition, India also lost to Nepal. In 2013, India went down to Myanmar when they needed a draw to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup. Not long ago, India struggled to beat Bhutan.
India have been in a free fall for a while now with the last away win in an Asian or World Cup qualifier coming in 2001. So, this result is not like Peru beating Germany, a team ranked 60 Fifa rankings slots above it now. Or maybe Singapore stealing a point from Japan.
“Today, the difference was very much visible between a group of players who have the best football education and the rest. 75 per cent of the players who represented Guam have been born and brought up in the US and that made a huge difference,” Stephen Constantine, the India coach, said.
Blaming the players and the coach is the easiest thing to do but it’s also time India realises that the kind of education Constantine is talking about hasn’t happened in nearly 20 years that a national league was started.
What’s perhaps worse is that course correction seems to be an exercise largely on paper.
Result: Guam 2 (McDonald 37, T. Nicklaw 62) India 1 (Chhetri 90+4)
Striker Sunil Chhetri on Tuesday became the first Indian footballer to score 50 international goals during his team’s 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Guam.
“Number of goals never matter for me. I never keep track of feats. I just play for my nation,” Chhetri said after the match ended in a 1-2 defeat for the visitors.
Former captain Bhaichung Bhutia stays at the second spot with 42 goals in 107 matches while IM Vijayan has 40 goals from 79 games. This was Chhetri’s 87th match.
After Guam took a 2-goal lead by scoring in each half, Chhetri reduced the margin for the visitors in added time, heading in a cross from the right.
Guam, coached by Englishman Gary White, now have six points from two matches in the pool, ahead of Oman who beat India away on Thursday.
Prior to this joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying campaign, Guam’s first and last attempt to qualify for a major tournament ended in a 19-0 loss to Iran in 2000, followed two days later by a 16-0 defeat by Tajikistan.
Guam face a return to Iran in their next qualifying match in September.
Elsewhere, Omar Abdulrahman scored with 10 minutes to go for United Arab Emirates to beat East Timor 1-0.
(With inputs from Agencies)