It is not known whether Bob Houghton and Alfred Riedl know each other but even if they do not, the Englishman would have empathised with the Austrian's lament about the lack of size in his football team.
The Vietnam team, their coach Riedl was quoted as saying in Hanoi, has an average height of 170 cm. That's 4.7 cm less than India, going by the medical record provided to HT by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) general-secretary Alberto Colaco. But even at 174.7 cm, India are, based on the data provided by AIFF's medical consultant Dr Vece Paes, over eight centimetres short of world average.
Riedl, whose team shocked the UAE 2-0 in their Asian Cup opener, said the difference between Vietnam, ranked 142nd on last month's FIFA list, and international glory is "10 centimetres." In terms of results, Houghton's still looking for such a stunner but since taking over last June, the Indian coach has been saying pretty much the same thing. Ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia last August, his first with India, Houghton had said size does matter.
After putting up what many thought was their best international showing in a long time, India lost 0-3 to the team that played in the World Cup finals. "When you are unlucky, you get three headed goals and there's nothing you can do...," Riedl said.
Seeing five or seven taller opponents is not just a psychological downer but also makes defending and attacking set-piece movements more difficult. It is not just about height either. In terms of weight, the average of 70.6 kg that the squad leaving for Portugal on Thursday night has is 9.3 kg less than world standard.
"Our speed is almost the same but when you are playing a top team in a body contact sport, their momentum is higher and hence our players fall down. Also, our explosive power, as ascertained by tests, is much lower than the western norm," Dr Paes, maintaining a medical database of the senior team since 2003, said.
"The idea is to gradually close down the difference and increase the explosive power without compromising on our speed," Paes said. The below-average height and weight means players's Bleep Test (a standardised multi-stage fitness test) results too are lower. Colaco said the current squad, with Steven Dias as the best, has an average of 11.7. The world standard is 13.09, he said.
The good news is that since the AIFF started the database, the players have grown both in size and strength. With the 187cm tall goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya and striker Abhishek Yadav (183 cm) returning after being out for over an year, the average has gone up by 0.9 cm. With players giving some attention to strength and weight training, even the weight has gone up. "It would be great if we had taller and bigger players but this squad has players of good height at certain key positions. Like Tarif Ahmed, Gourmangi Singh and Mahesh Gawali, for instance," Colaco said.