India’s new technical director Scott O’Donell believes there are benefits with having to go through the first round of FIFA World Cup qualifying.
In the new qualifying system implemented by the Asian Football Confederation, the 12 lowest ranked nations are drawn to take part in Round 1, with the six winners joining the 34 other nations in the second round.
India is the highest-ranked of the 12 nations that will take part in the first round, meaning they just missed automatic qualification to the second round, but O’Donell prefers to look at the positives.
“Obviously it is disappointing that we have to go through the first round of qualifying,” he told Football Channel Asia. “But from a positive point of view it means two extra international games for our boys to play and it gives an opportunity for Stephen (Constantine) to see the current batch of players at international level.”
The draw for the first round was held on Tuesday in Malaysia and saw 171st ranked India drawn against 186th ranked neighbours Nepal in what is the highlight match of the first round.
Coincidentally, new Indian coach Stephen Constantine, who had a previous stint as Indian coach between 2002 and 2005, was also a previous coach of the Nepalese national team from 1999 to 2001.
“They will be two huge games for both countries and very interesting for Stephen as he has coached both teams before,” O’Donell said.
India were knocked out in the second round of World Cup qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup by the UAE, missing the chance to go into group stages of the third round. Making it to the group stages in this qualification would provide a big boost to Indian football, says Sydney-born O’Donell.
“Obviously it would be inspirational for the young kids seeing our national team play against some of the bigger countries in Asia,” the 47-year-old explained.
“One of the things we are missing here in India are role models for our young players. Previously we have only had former skipper Baichung Bhutia, who is still the biggest name in Indian football, and now we have Sunil Chhetri as well but it would be great if we had more footballers who are household names.
“The recently completed ISL went along way in raising the profile of domestic football here in India and we are hoping that will continue with the new season of the I.League having just started.”
O’Donell has recently taken over the role of Technical Director at the All India Football Federation after Dutchman Rob Baan, previously a Technical Director in Australia, retired.
O’Donell was involved with the AIFF’s academy system prior to beginning his new role, and while those players are all too young to be involved in this campaign the former Cambodia coach is hopeful a number can take the next step in their careers over the coming years.
“All of our Elite Academy boys last year got contracts with I.League clubs, so it is up to them to play regularly and well in the I.League to grab the attention of the National Coach,” he told Football Channel Asia.
“I would like to think that the boys signed by the I.League clubs are well prepared for professional football. Colm Toal, the former coach of the Elite Academy and his staff did a great job to prepare the boys for challenges that lie ahead for a professional football player.”
India host the first leg against Nepal on March 12, before travelling to Nepal for the second leg on March 17.