China & India: The sleeping giants of world football
Will the huge populations of these countries help them to become football powerhouses?
In the last few decades the economy of two of Asia’s biggest countries has exploded. Both China and India now both have in excess of one billion people living within their borders yet neither has made an impact on the international football scene. Is it just a matter of time before they do?
The national football team of People’s Republic of China has a FIFA ranking of 109 (as of March 2013). One of the most prominent national sides in Asia, China is yet to make a mark on the grand stage.
With a population of more than 1.34 billion, the dragons are a leader on many fronts but football is still very much a new sport in the country.
China’s sporting prowess has been growing. The republic finished first in the medals table when it hosted the 2008 Olympics and it recently finished second behind the USA in London 2012.
The growing popularity for football is evident from the fact that an estimated 300 million people tuned in to broadcasts of China's 2002 World Cup matches with a staggering 170 million new television sets being bought by citizens in order to watch their nation's first World Cup appearance. There were over 250 million viewers for the 2004 AFC Asian Cup Final, the largest single-event sports audience in the country's history.
Although China failed to score a goal in their maiden FIFA World Cup appearance in 2002, losing all three of their group matches, just qualifying for the tournament has been considered the greatest accomplishment in their football history.
Shanghai Shenhua is now one of the most famous clubs in Asia after signing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka from Chelsea for a brief stint.
India’s National Football Team ranks a lowly 143rd spot in the most recent FIFA world rankings. The most diverse nation in the world, with a population of 1.21 billion has not been represented in the World Cup yet. The country, which is famous for it’s love of cricket, is yet to produce a world-class talent to play in the biggest leagues in the world.
The greatest player to play for the national side is Baichung Bhutia, who played 107 times for his country, scoring 43 goals. Despite being considered the torchbearer for Indian football he struggled to make an impact outside of India as a short stint at Bury was deemed unsuccessful.
Sunil Chhetri is one of the players who has played for big clubs like Sporting Lisbon and Kansas City in the MLS.
Indian League or I-League is a very exciting league and is generally very tightly contested. The rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan is one of the most prominent rivalries in the South East region and in a derby match at the Salt Lake Stadium, the count of spectators swelled up to a staggering 131,000.
The passion for the European Leagues is quite evident from the fact that the country has more than 35 million Manchester United fans itself. It remains to be seen, however, if the country’s obsession with cricket can ever give way to football. If football does become a major sport in India it is likely that their massive pool of talent will allow them to climb the rankings and compete at major tournaments.
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