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The BBC's Alan Biggs
With a match report from Filbert Street
 real 28k

Saturday, 29 July, 2000, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Indian tour ends on high
Joe Paul Ancheri
Joe Paul Ancheri scores against Bangladesh
The past week has been an eventful one for the Indian football team, as their first visit to England in over 50 years ends they will look back with a sense of achievement, writes Ashish Sharma.

While they failed to beat their English league opponents with a 2-0 defeat to Fulham and a goalless draw against West Bromwich Albion, they played well enough to have done so.

They even brought the trip to a successful conclusion by recording a 1-0 victory over Bangladesh at Leicester City's Filbert Street Ground on Saturday.

But while the commercial side of the tour has been a success, for the Indian coaching staff the footballing lessons were more important.

Bhaichung Bhutia
Bury's Bhaichung Bhutia in action at Leicester
When India last played in England it was way back in 1948 in the London Olympics.

Bare-footed

The team played bare footed in those days, but were so impressive they were invited to take part in the 1950 World cup in Brazil.

The only stipulation was that India wear football boots. They refused and did not send a team.

Fifty two years later India are still waiting to make their first appearance in the World Cup.

Pradeep Kumar Banerjee is India's technical manager. He has a ten-year plan to get India into the 2010 World Cup finals.

For him this tour is the first step on that road.

World Cup qualifiers

"At the present moment the All India Football Federation has sent over this team only to see that they get enough exposure," Banerjee said.

"Then they go back to play in the pre World Cup qualifiers in May and then it is the Afro Asian Games in Delhi later in the year."


The All India Football Federation has sent over this team only to see that they get enough exposure
  Pradeep Kumar Banerjee
Banerjee believes that India needs ten years to set up the right infrastructure to make qualifying for future World Cups a formality. And a tour like this one is vital to acheive that.

"Our boys seldom get a chance to play in Europe. But now that India is going towards professionalism, we have to get to a level where our boys and outstanding children will realise that there is a career."

The decline of Indian football in the seventies and eighties could be linked to the rise of cricket, which draws in youngsters from an early age.

Fightback

But football has been fighting back. With FIFA's help India now has a national league with 12 teams.

The sport also has a hero and a role model, in captain Bhaichung Bhutia.

Bhaichang's arrival at second division Bury last season made him the first Indian international to play in England, and elevated him to superstar status back in India.

India v Bangladesh
Bangladesh win brings tour to a successful end
Sukhwinder Singh, India's coach, believes this is a fast track route towards improving the standard of the Indian game.

"If we can have four or five players playing outside then it will be very good for India to encourage, to motivate people, because football is not the priority in India."

More than anything else, this tour will raise the profile of football back on the sub-continent.

All of India's games were shown live which is a timely reminder to future sponsors of the potential market that exists in Asia.

The money that is now trickling in is vital to develop the game in schools, and build soccer academies for children. Further tours are in the pipeline.

Some English clubs impressed by what they've seen so far, are keen to host India in future tours. For them it's a good way of encouraging British Asian to watch live games.

For the Indians the tours will provide experience and much needed cash on their long journey towards World Cup qualification.

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See also:

19 Jul 00 |  Football
Indians look to corner market
27 Jul 00 |  Europe
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27 Jul 00 |  Eng Div 1
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