India breaks into FIFA top 100 after 21 years

Maradona to visit India ahead of U-17 WC

KOLKATA: Photo shows former Argentina’s national team coach and former football star Diego Armando Maradona as he gestures towards unseen Indian fans while attending an event at The Mohun Bagan Football Club in Kolkata. Football legend Diego Maradona is set to visit the soccer-crazy city of Kolkata in September 2017, ahead of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup being hosted by India. — AFP

NEW DELHI: The Indian men’s football team yesterday climbed to the 100th spot in the latest FIFA world rankings-their best rating in more than two decades. Despite having a population of well over one billion, India languishes as a footballing minnow, ranked equally alongside Nicaragua, Lithuania and Estonia in a global table headed by Brazil. India-where the national pastime of cricket is something of an obsession that squeezes other sports out of the running-last made the top 100 in 1996, reaching an all-time high of 94, before plunging.

The boost in ranking comes after India beat Cambodia 3-2 in Phnom Penh on March 22 in a friendly clash before edging out Myanmar 1-0 in Yangon on March 28 during an AFC Asian Cup qualifying match. Head coach Stephen Constantine congratulated his side on the milestone, but warned them against complacency ahead of important matches. “As long as we keep heading up the ladder I am happy. It points out that we are heading in the right direction,” the 54-year-old Englishman was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

“There are major matches ahead and we cannot take things lightly. There’s no place for complacency,” said Constantine, who took charge of the Indian team in 2015. India will play a friendly against Lebanon on June 7 and then an Asian Cup qualifier against Kyrgyzstan on June 13. The team has won 11 of their last 13 matches, including an unofficial match against Bhutan, scoring 31 goals in the process. “It’s pleasing that we are presently ranked 100. At the same time, we need to stay aware of the challenge in hand. The AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers UAE 2019 are an acid test for us,” said Kushal Das, AIFF general secretary.

U-17 World Cup
In another development, football legend Diego Maradona is set to visit the soccer-crazy city of Kolkata in September ahead of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup being hosted by India. The Argentine superstar will participate in a charity football match against Kolkata’s greatest cricket export and former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, the event promoters said. Maradona-who was given a hero’s welcome when he first visited the eastern Indian city in 2008 – will also be presented with a lifetime achievement award in West Bengal state.

“It is such an honor for me to be able to make this trip. Kolkata is a very special place and I have good memories from my trip there many years ago, the fans were fantastic,” Maradona posted on his Facebook page. “#India is a very passionate football nation, and I look forward to meeting a whole new generation of fans while continuing to spread the overwhelming love that I have for this beautiful game.” Football is hugely popular in Kolkata, with fans closely following international matches, despite India’s dominant obsession with cricket. The city has also hosted Brazilian great Pele, who last visited in 2015. Maradona’s visit is expected to build enthusiasm for the U-17 World Cup, which India is hosting for the first time this October.- Agencies

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