The Hero Intercontinental Cup - Interview

This week we up caught with Akarsh (Akarsh_Official) to discuss the recent Hero Intercontinental Cup.

The first topic on the agenda was India winning the competition. Looking then at the tournament winners we asked Akarsh what we should read into the win.

As he went on to explain although India won the tournament it was difficult to come to any conclusions about the state of each national side because of this.

As he explained. "Yes, India won the tournament but it is hard to draw conclusions from this keeping in mind that the opposition was relatively weak and all three sides had weakened squads while India had their best line-ups. (Talking about India) The way New Zealand's second or third string outplayed us was particularly worrying. Both Kenya and New Zealand, in fact, looked better on the ball, in possession, than India did. But that isn't so worrying: India will likely have to spend a lot of time without the ball in the Asian Cup and we have to be smart about it." 

Akarsh did not mention Taiwan here, as India found their game against them fairly straightforward winning 5-0. 

To read more about Gary White's take on that result and the whole tournament check out Mark Henderson's write up.

Was the Hero Intercontinental Tournament a success as a whole for India? 

"It depends on what your success parameters are. Technically, this was meant to be prepared for the Asian Cup but we did not play against strong teams. In that sense, even if we won it wasn't ideal preparation. It did become a fairly successful tournament due to the wave of support our national team gathered - like nothing we've had in almost a decade. And of course, we delivered too. Sunil Chhetri, India's captain, put out a two-minute video as a plea to fans to come out and support the team. They did, they enjoyed it and the team won. These are the kind of occasions where you build a (hopefully lasting) emotional association with the national team, which in India isn't a given at all."

It is always great to see the sport of football growing and if more people get behind the game in a country of over a billion it could be great news for the whole continent of Asia. 

Leading on from this, I wanted to know what Akarsh made of the tournament as a whole and if these things help to build a footballing culture in India. 

The reason for this question is that when India hosted the Under 20 World Cup huge crowds turned up for this. While last season the Indian Super League saw average crowds of around the 14,000 mark. 

This led me to ask - do you think the Hero Intercontinental Cup will help bring more popularity to the sport of Football in India?

"Yes. It will and we do not have enough of these. In India, where there's a clear void in sporting culture, sports is competing with all kinds of other entertainment channels. Our national team remains out of sight, out of mind for too long to capture the imagination of the public. Domestic football isn't widely watched - usually, that's the gateway to build an association and support the national team. Know the players, know your team. Which is why such events are necessary and much needed. However, I would rather see a focus on club football and then build the fan base on that level. National team support will be organic then."

Meanwhile, we couldn't end a chat talking about India without mentioning Sunil Chhetri.

As Akarsh added;

Our Player of the Tournament was Sunil Chhetri, our captain. We love to spread this one graphic about him: he's level with Lionel Messi on 64 goals. Joint second-highest active goalscorer for any nation. He's head and shoulders, and a few more head and shoulders, above any other player in India. His technique, his smartness, his presence of mind, his on-field and off-field intelligence and his knack for scoring are just fantastic. He's the mainstay of this team. He's sort of the Mohamed Salah of our team - you would barely see a fan wearing an NT jersey other than Chhetri on the back. Without him, we lose all our bite. He scored eight goals in the tournament. India scored 11 overall. He was the tournament's top scorer and best player. Next, best scorer was a Kenyan with two goals.

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