A tense moment during the India-Saudi Arabia match: Exposing weaknessesPre-Olympic soccer came back to India after nine years under the glare of the floodlights of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. But the encounter between Saudi Arabia and India never really sent the sparks flying.The Saudis who flew in,A tense moment during the India-Saudi Arabia match: Exposing weaknessesPre-Olympic soccer came back to India after nine years under the glare of the floodlights of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. But the encounter between Saudi Arabia and India never really sent the sparks flying.The Saudis who flew in to India fresh from a bout of intensive coaching in Rio De Janeiro did, however, put up a display of fast and inventive football that had the huge crowd of around 50,000 applauding in appreciation.Barely three minutes after the kick-off India quite unexpectedly swung into the attack and scored through a fine opportunistic effort by striker Biswajit Bhattacharjee. Adopting the 4-3-3 system the home side managed to cling onto the lead till the equaliser came in the 26th minute.The Saudis who are trained by Brazilian World Cup player Mario Zagalo, soon switched on the Samba style. Time and again they cut through the relatively weak Indian defence which was without its experienced trio of Manoranjan, Sudip and Alok.With the Indians fast tiring and seemingly running out of steam the Saudis clinched the issue with a dream “banana” goal that had Brazil written all over it. In spectacular fashion, off a direct free-kick, Khaled Al-Majel sent a curling right footer, that deceived the ‘wall’ of Indian defenders and left goalkeeper Brahmanand stranded. After that blow India faded out almost completely and the Saudis were quite content to hold on to their slender lead and play out time.advertisementIt was a dismal performance by the Indian side which belied the high hopes and expectations that were kindled following months of intensive coaching. The raggedness of the attack and a weak inexperienced defence told on the medios who were unable to make any constructive moves and had to operate within the Indian half to bolster an inept defence.At the end of 90 minutes the Indians looked tired and were conspicuously short of stamina. In fact as they trudged into the dressing-room one was reminded of the stragglers of Asiad after a night out.For India there are seven more matches in the competition. “One defeat doesn’t mean we are out of the running, there are a lot of matches left and we can pull it through,” avers Ciric Milovan, the chief coach of the Indians. This optimism in the light of recent performances, however, seems totally unfounded and is not shared by many. Former national coach and Olympic captain P.K. Banerjee feels that a drastic change in approach is called for.In a postmortem discussion over Doordarshan Banerjee said: “We have concentrated more on preventing goals than on scoring them.” He also regretted that most of the players lacked the basic skill for international football, “elementary things like trapping, passing, stopping”.Banerjee’s anguish is echoed by Chuni Goswami captain of the gold medal winning Indian side at the Djakarta Asiad who says: “Our performance was drab and colourless. Let’s face it, quite a few of the players are just not up to international standards. It is our misfortune that we are passing through a phase of paucity of skilful and talented players. That touch of class, skill and artistry so vital for success at the international level is woefully missing. We must have a more methodical and professional approach to the game.”Immediate Needs: Both literally and metaphorically the All India Football Federation (AIFF) will have to opt for professionalism if they are to ameliorate these spasms of despair. The overriding trend all over the world is a steady drift away from amateurism.Of the world’s soccer playing nations, the number that can still be described as amateur or underdeveloped in the footballing sense, is diminishing fast. Japan had a professional association as early as 1921 and Iran in 1922. Today,teams from the Far East have already made their impact in the World Cup, which does not self-defeatingly exalt the no longer attainable amateur ethic.The diminutive North Koreans created soccer history in the 1966 World Cup when they defeated Italy’s star-studded team and, even more dramatically gave Portugal’s supporters cardiac tremors in the quarter-finals before being eliminated. Even smaller African countries like Egypt, Morocco and Zaire have blasted their way to the final stages of the World Cup.The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has tried to face up to the problem of interpreting amateurism for a long time. Avery Brundage the great apostle of amateurism who presided over the IOC for two decades, was very clear on the definition. “An amateur,” explained Brundage, “is just what the dictionary implies, a lover from the Latin word amaton. An amateur sportsman engages in sport for the love of the game and only love. It’s just as simple as that.”advertisementCynics point out that multimillionaires like Brundage or British noblemen like his successor Lord Killanin, can afford to indulge in Utopian dreams. Less fortunate individuals, like the players, can’t. It is obviously time to face facts and accept that professionalism is essential if Indian football is to get anywhere. For the Olympic ideal only encourages dishonest exploitation of loopholes. Too much international pride and prestige is involved in the winning or losing of a medal.Athletes cannot hope even to take part if their standards are not phenomenally high. They cannot attain those standards unless they devote the best period of their lives to their chosen sport. And they cannot do this unless they are paid well. It is a catch-22 situation and Indian football is caught in a classic impasse.