It was disappointing but few would have expected anything else given the standard of our football. Maldives U-22 football team has a long way to go before they can match the highly-skillful teams from Gulf; perhaps the huge loss of 17-0 against Iran is a stark reminder of the chasm between these two nations. The irresistible potency of their attacking prowess is as sharp as Ali Dhai inspired-team which inflicted a near ignominious result in our maiden journey into World Cup qualifier in 1997.
The fact that we did not win any of the five matches (conceding 21 goals while managing only 2 goals) in this campaign speaks volumes of how ruthless the oppositions are and our desperate lack of talent. Perhaps we will be forever pushovers always knocking on the door of elimination for being too little too late. Players might do their best in the given circumstances but will fall short as so often have been proven. Harshly exposed in the back, strikers fluff too many chances which go begging. Poor ball possession and an inability to string up couple of passes our perennial affliction for so long. May be it is an anomaly entrenched in how football is played in Maldives.
Even our senior football team would not have fared any better. Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait and Qatar are Gulf powerhouses brimming with far better resources; they are endowed with better professional and financial infrastructure to nurture young talent. In a way it amply sheds light on the semi-professional football infrastructure of Maldives. Or rather a revised format of football we had to adopt due to the geographical nature of our land and tiny population that is intrinsically bound to the pathos of why we are floundering at the periphery of continental football.
Haphazardly thrown into Indian Ocean like an emerald chain we are a nation of islands scattered over vast space, islands far-flung with a boisterous sea boiling over. Competitive league football, for lack of better alternative, is strangely played only in one city and one stadium while the rest of country is cruelly detached from any form of competitive football. All the clubs are based in Male’. They take part, people from there go and watch at the stadium. The only option for islanders is to make it through zone competition. If you are one of the few lucky then the rule is you must stay for the whole duration of tournament in Male’ or risk travel which, at best, is burgeoning expanses and precarious conquering of sea as Hurriyya from Island Huraa found it for their abject despair. They desperately tried to buck the trend and stay big in Dhivehi football but not for long before funds and talent dried up.
Huraa is lucky that they went that far, being closer to Male’, but what about the many islands far away living a secluded life. That leaves very little options for hundreds of enthusiastic kids from many of these islands who harbor the thought of a dream career in football. The options are either you leave everything behind and reside in Male' despite the economic hardship it presents or banish the whole thought of it from your mind and get on with life.
A huge price indeed to pay for our inability to implement the more popular form of league football where you have home-and-away rule! But is there a way to overcome it? Islands are too far-flung, the sea is unpredictable, and transport is not a viable option. So we slug it out. Only those who exhibit their talent in Galholhu stadium are in contention for national team which is obviously few, a mere trickle in comparison to the per cent of available talent from Maldives.
Pit that against a tiny population and we are talking of very few players. YDP (youth development program) may have been in existence for years and ushering in a new era of football, but the facts are there for all to see. They remain active in few select atolls. Who knows how many talented youngsters are in other far-flung islands waiting for an opportunity. He could very well be another Fazeel or Ashfaq. The kind of players the present U-22, the national team of tomorrow, is desperately missing.
That is it. Islanders’ dream of making it big in football wallows in despair. Even their ambitions of experiencing club football right in front of their eyes cruelly ends where national football tournament is concerned. What does it mean? It means slow pace of development of our football, pathetic results from in SAFF championship. It means we are stagnant, forever stuck in a ruthless time-wrap oscillating to and fro, not going anywhere. At time fast travelling backward when you see our clubs in those AFC cup matches.
The sharpest gauge to measure our strength in the region is our immediate neighbor, India. The last time we met they threw us out in the semi-final of SAFF 2011 with a rather miserable result of 3-1. It looks like our win against them in SAFF 2008 a fluke.
May be we need to go to basics and start all over. May be we have reached a saturation point where our football will not develop further with the current league system so we must go to drawing board for a new round of brainstorm. For a new way of surmounting the odds stacked against our football. We may not be able to conquer sea but we cannot let each and every hurdle to trample our ideas for a better footballing nation.