Just when it was thought that things couldn’t get any worse Indian football has slumped to a new low plummeting 15 places in the FIFA rankings to be at the 117th spot. This is India’s worst ranking after it was placed at the 129th spot in the January 2017 chart. The historical worst ranking though is 173 in 2015.

Given the lowly status of Indian football and how it has steadily declined over the years there will be a tendency to shrug off such stats. But the fact that it is a major sport and has an enormous fan following at times leads to passionate discussions which revolve around “whither Indian football.’’

After all, the scenario wasn’t always so dismal. In the golden days of Indian football, yes, there were such days, the team was good enough to make it to the semifinal of the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.

It missed the bronze medal narrowly, winning the gold medal at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962 and being a force to reckon with in Asia. Today the country is ranked 22nd among Asian nations.

Now and then emerges a hue and cry over the Indian team’s feeble showing. The latest outcry has been over the performance in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers group games and in particular the 2-1 loss to Afghanistan at Guwahati on Tuesday, after the away match ended in a goalless draw.

The Afghans are ranked 158 and were dismissed as a rag tag outfit that could barely pencil in a full professional side. It was clearly Indian football’s most embarrassing moment in recent memory.

It came hot on the heels of the debacle at the AFC Asia Cup last month where India lost all the three group matches. The setbacks are getting to be too humiliating to just wish them off.

For long, it was thought that a foreign coach could help Indian football turn the corner. And so for many years we have had a succession of heavily paid foreign coaches who have come up with various theories to try and improve things.

But the coaches have left after their stint, with Indian football continuing to languish. The latest to have the guns trained on him is the incumbent Igor Stimac.

The Croat arrived with lofty plans but the results have been anything but laudable. In fact Indian football has slid further and calls have commenced for him to quit.

What has upset football followers in the country is Stimac’s tendency to blame the players and not accept responsibility. Even after the most abysmal of defeats at Guwahati he was still throwing his players under the bus squarely blaming them for lack of intent and cohesion. Fans at the stadium however made their stance clear by shouting “go back Stimac’’ slogans.

The defeat will certainly rankle for India were expected to log six points from the home and away games against Afghanistan. But Stimac remains optimistic about India qualifying for the next stage.

With Qatar beating Kuwait in the other group match on Tuesday India continued to be in second position edging Afghanistan on better goal average. Stimac is now pinning his hopes on the qualifiers against Kuwait in June.

Had they won against Afghanistan India would have had a very good chance of qualifying from group A to the next round. Now only a win against Kuwait at Calcutta can seal a berth but on current form India do not look good enough to beat the West Asian country.

In any case Stimac’s days as head coach seem to be numbered. A senior AIFF official is quoted as saying, “he has run out of excuses. All this talk of longer camps sounds hollow now. If a ragtag outfit like Afghanistan can beat us at home why do you need a camp.’’

Strong words but it remains to be seen whether the Federation will have the guts to sack the 1998 World Cup player. One supposes it will all depend on what happens in June but if he wants to quit before that indications are that the AIFF will not stop him.

But, who is to blame, the coaches or the AIFF? The parent body cannot just shrug off the failings and fault the coach.

Mired by controversies the current set of office bearers who took over the reins in September 2022 has not done anything to send across a message that it means business and that they can do better than their predecessors.

A senior official has been quoted as saying that the Indian team is a reflection of the state of affairs in the federation, “Yes Stimac has failed to deliver but what about us? From the Hangzhou Asian Games team controversy to the lack of support to the head coach we have let ourselves down. The toxicity has had a huge impact on the national team.’’

It is high time that the AIFF acts and takes a decision that will help make them look serious about doing the right things for Indian football. There appears to be not much trust between the coach and the senior players and the lack of belief perhaps translates to the rest of the team their disjointed ways of telling the story.

About the only silver lining in the depressing scenario has been provided by that ageless wonder Sunil Chhetri. At 39 he continues to sparkle, scoring India’s lone goal on Tuesday, it being his 94th international goal in his 150th match.

He is currently the third highest international goal scorer among active players behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.