Miracles are rare, but Indian football looks to be on the right track if senior pros like Rino Anto are to be heeded. The India U-23 team secured their finest-ever finish in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers which explains the belief.
“During the times when we were involved with the national team, we didn’t see a lot of football at the age-group level. Most of us would just be drafted straight into the national team when we peak.“
“Things are changing now and these youngsters are getting the opportunity to develop as they are playing from as young as the under-17 level. We can’t expect miracles of course, but such performances are very positive going forward,” said ex-India international Rino Anto.
Rino Anto impressed with U-23 performance
The 33-year-old has donned the colors of some of the biggest clubs in the country. He has played for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC. The right-back is presently at Punjab FC. He has also bagged major titles like the I-League and the Federation Cup among others.
The defender is of the opinion that the youngsters showcased exquisite performances against top teams. “I think they narrowly missed out on qualification but there were some fine performances. The win against Oman stood out while the performance of the boys against Kyrgyzstan was also impressive,” he stated.
India managed to see off Kyrgyzstan on penalties as they secured second place in the group. The top teams from every group qualify. The best four teams who come in at second also go through for the main event next year. Now India must patiently wait to see if they are still able to qualify.
In Rino’s opinion, qualification to the Asian Cup wass a massive achievement. However, the performance of the youngsters is truly commendable. “I think ever since the Under-17 World Cup was held in India, grassroots football has come under focus and we are seeing youngsters get a lot more exposure than before.“
He continued, “We are able to confidently compete against higher ranked teams and this bodes well for the future. It is about taking one step at a time”.
Vikram Pratap Singh received songs of praise for his showing as well. ISL regulars like Dheeraj Singh, Apuia and Suresh Singh have also been seeing crucial game time.
However, a significant concern that spooks Indian football is surrounding the road ahead when Sunil Chhetri hangs up his boots. Rino was asked if any of the newer generation could fill the Chhetri void over time. He explained that above everything, the players needed more game time.
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