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India needs to play Middle East football nations, says Prasanta Banerjee

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Kolkata, April 3: Former India and Mohun Bagan midfielder Prasanta Banerjee, who is now part of All India Football Federation (AIFF)'s rejigged technical committee, on Monday said the national team — slated to jump 31 spots to 101 in FIFA rankings — now needs to play against Middle East countries in order to improve further.


India, after their twin wins in a FIFA friendly against Cambodia and AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Myanmar, are set to take a big leap from 132nd in the rankings to 101st, their best rankings in 20 years and 11 months. FIFA will publish the ranking on April 6.

"Now that we will be 101 in rankings, we need to play Middle East countries like Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE," Banerjee told reporters on the sidelines of an event organised by Footballnext which promises to send two West Bengal budding footballers to Spain.

"The more we play with them, we will understand the gulf in class. We will get a better idea of where we are. Playing Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan is fine but we need to play against these countries to assess our standard of football and not necessarily always think about rankings," the 59-year-old known for his vision on the pitch during his heydays, said.

Banerjee said the first technical committee meeting to be chaired by Shyam Thapa is not expected to be held before May. Thapa replaced Bhaichung Bhutia as the chairman of the committee.

India coach Stephen Constantine and technical director Savio Medeira are in the city for a scouting workshop with the Bengal soccer governing body Indian Football Association (IFA) and the state government.

Banerjee, who was at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on Monday for the same, said discussions revolved around how the scouting network could be improved in the country.

Answering a question on India's chances of playing the 2026 FIFA World Cup which will be a 48-team affair allowing AFC to have a possible eight slots from the current four, Banerjee said the target is that.

"There is still time. Now it's 2017 and if we target 2026 World Cup, scouting needs to start from now," he said.

"In India we now have just two scouts. Manchester (United) has 35 scouts. If a club can have so many scouters, why can't a nation? This is very unfortunate. These were discussed in the meeting today. Time is at a premium, we need to start from now to aim for 2026 World Cup."

Banerjee signed off by stating that U-17 World Cup preparations will be affected slightly as coach Nicolai Adam was removed at the last moment, with Portugal's Luis Norton de Matos replacing the German.

"Team preparation will be affected a bit for sure. The U-17 boys were training under a new coach all this while. Now the new coach will have to settle down and he doesn't have much time. He has to see whether he tours the entire length and breadth of the country to scout more players or focuses on team combination," he reflected.

Banerjee though put his weight behind India to put up a good show. "India's wont do too poorly in the World Cup. U-17 World Cup will be a very high level of football, but the team will fight for sure," he said.

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