NEW DELHI: When India line up to host Qatar for the return leg of this tie on March 26 next year, chances are it won't be for a dead rubber. It is possible that by then, Igor Stimac's team could be in the mix for an Asian Cup slot as third-placed claimants. They could even be in with an improbable outside chance to make the main stage of World Cup qualifying as the second team from a tough group. You never know.
What you do know, however, is that by the time Qatar visits India in March, India's football landscape would have been irrevocably changed. The Asian champions would be facing a team whose football structure would be unrecognizable to its very own.
The All India Football Federation is furiously clearing the decks, working day and night to deliver us this altered universe. In all this, Stimac and a bunch of young men with frankly laughable international experience, but hearts of giants, have happened.
As the dust settles over a strangely satisfying evening in Doha , it gives you a rare opportunity to look ahead. What you can see is that whatever little this team may be achieving, however feebly it may be punching above its weight, it is not because of over-reaching efforts of the AIFF. Sadly, that remains the biggest takeaway from the show against Qatar.
In a fragile eco-system that needed care and protection but is arrogantly handed an overhaul blitz instead, you can see a bleak winter approaching. Once-proud clubs will be left with no choice but to fold up, recent hopeful entities who'd have looked to emulate the older institutions will think twice before forming a football club, subsequently denying the local boy something to dream about. It would be with these and other hollow feelings that we would watch the Indian team shape up to give Qatar another scare next year.
We were always taught that nothing exists in a vacuum. This team is defiantly showing us otherwise. But for how much longer can it hold its own in such stifling times is the question.