Its dates shuffled to facilitate pre-season preparations for teams in the Indian Super League (ISL), the first football tour of the USA for the senior India team has been cancelled even as players prepared for it in New Delhi. All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das said visas could not be got in time. Originally scheduled for the last week of August, the exposure trip would have had India playing against clubs in Major League Soccer (MLS), the United Soccer League (USL) and international games. “The general idea is we will play two-three games against some MLS and USL clubs and also one or two internationals… I think it would be a great experience for our players,” Constantine had told HT in February.
But that’s also when ISL teams would start preparations for season 3 so the tour was brought forward to the first half of August. According to a source in the AIFF, had the tour happened on the dates originally decided, the AIFF would have had to pay only for passage. And talks were on for at least one friendly with Guyana, said the source. Ranked 129th, they are the kind of opponents Constantine was seeking because a good result could have bettered India’s current Fifa ranking of 152 and helped get an easier draw in the second round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers next year. But once the dates were brought forward, the organisers in the USA said the entire cost would have to be borne by the AIFF, said the source in the federation. Given that the ISL and the I-League would leave no time for such an exposure trip till February-March 2017, the AIFF agreed, said the source. The team was supposed to leave between August 1 and 5 but visas could not be arranged. For this trip, players from Bengaluru FC were left out because they are readying for the AFC Cup quarter-finals and citing Kolkata league engagements East Bengal released only one of the four who were called. “Only a handful had US visas, having been part of the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Guam (in June 2015). Visas were then got in five days because that match was part of a Fifa tournament. This time, it would have taken a lot longer,” said Das. In October 2015, India played Turkmenistan and Oman in World Cup qualifiers during the ISL and citing Fifa rules, franchises refused to release players leading to a preparatory camp being cancelled. “It is not that the head coach of the senior national team wants the boys for preparatory camps ahead of international games because he has nothing to do. It is because the level of international games is so much higher…,” Constantine had said in February. Bhutan, Puerto Rico for friendlies? India will now play a friendly against Bhutan away around August 10-11 and till then these 23 players will train in New Delhi. And to help India’s chances in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, the AIFF is also keen that a friendly on a Fifa date is scheduled. It is trying to host Puerto Rico on September 4. Puerto Rico are ranked 112th by Fifa. That match will happen during ISL pre-seasons but being a Fifa date, franchisees will have to release players at least 48 hours before the game. It could mean flying from Europe, as that is the preferred destination for most ISL teams, for a friendly and going back.