Former Indian national football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia spoke after India's exit from the AFC Asian Cup and reiterated the importance of developing football at the grassroot level in the country.
Bhutia was full of praise for the Indian team for their valiant effort in the tournament and thought that luck wasn't on the Blue Tigers' side in their final game against Bahrain.
Speaking to Goal, Bhutia started out by stating, "I think India was unlucky. It was very heart-breaking. They could have qualified but they conceded a late penalty. Overall, I think they put on a good performance. They need to keep their heads and chins up. They played well, but the luck was not in our favour."
Bhutia was then questioned whether he thought if India played for a draw instead of performing well for a win. The former Indian captain replied, "It’s always difficult to play against an opponent which are at a similar level or slightly higher level when they are in a do-or-die situation. They would only come all out in attack. When you play those kinds of matches against an opponent like that, you are bound to keep it tight in defence, so it’s difficult."
Speaking about that mistake which led to India's exit in the final minutes, Bhutia stated, "But I think India did manage to keep it tight and defend well but just that last minute of one crucial mistake ended our hopes. Otherwise I think they maintained it well."
He then moved on to state that no one in the team performed bad as he said, "I think the entire team was brilliant. Everyone has put in hard work and contributed equally. The good thing about the Indian team -at least in this Asian Cup – was that no one performed bad or someone had to single-handedly carry the team. Everyone contributed, played well and did very well.”
Finally concluding his thoughts on the national team, Bhutia suggested the importance of grassroot level programmes in the development of Indian football. He said, "I think India need to keep focusing at the grassroot level and develop even higher quality players in the years to come. The investment still has to be in the grassroot level to identify and nurture the younger generation of players.”