New Delhi: Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju on Friday lauded the Indian football team, saying the standard of the side has improved drastically.
He spoke to ANI after launching a book on former India football captain Baichung Bhutia titled "The Ballad of Baichung Bhutia".
India had held Qatar to a goalless draw on Tuesday in the qualifying tournament for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
"The Indian football team has improved its standard drastically. Sunil Chhetri was not there in the match, still, the team was able to draw their match against Qatar in the qualifying tournament. I wish Chhetri a speedy recovery. Football is the most popular sport in the world and India should look to cement their place as a strong force in the sport," Rijiju told ANI.
His views were echoed by Bhutia, who also hailed India's performance, but said the team needs to build on it if they need to go ahead.
"I think the result against Qatar was very good. Despite Chhetri not being there, the team showed good skills. They lost the first match against Oman, but the performance against Qatar was very good. India needs to build on their performance as only two teams from the group stages will go ahead," Bhutia said.
Rijiju said Bhutia's book will be an inspiration for the youth across the country.
"This book gives you an insight into how he made a foray into football. Every step in his journey has been captured in the book and it will give you inspiration. I would like to congratulate Baichung. He was the captain of our team for a long time and he helped football grow in the country," the minister added.
The former football star said, "This book has been written by my school biology teacher. He always wanted Sports Minister Rijiju to inaugurate the book. I am very happy that Kiren sir has launched the book."
Bhutia said for football to grow in the country, the right culture needs to be developed to get the youth attracted towards the sport. He also hailed the Fit India movement and said the right budget needs to be allocated to the Sports Ministry to see better results.
"It is a long term process, you need to build on it. After the U-17 World Cup, the standard of the sport has improved in the country. We need to improve the culture towards football. South American teams are like us if we talk about the infrastructure, but the culture is there. We need to build grounds and if that happens youth will get attracted to the sport," he said.
"Fit India is a good initiative. For it to become successful, the right budget allotment should be there, then only the Sports Ministry can implement the plans. We need to learn from Iceland. They developed indoor stadiums and look at them now, they qualified for the last World Cup.
On Thursday, boxer Mary Kom was recommended for Padma Vibhushan while shuttler PV Sindhu for Padma Bhushan.
Rijiju said that the final call will be taken by the Padma Awards Committee.
"The Sports Ministry recommends the names. The final call is taken by the Padma Awards Committee," the minister added.
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, table tennis player Manika Batra, cricketer Harmanpreet Kaur, hockey captain Rani Rampal, former shooter Suma Shirur and mountaineer Tashi and Nungshi Malik, who are twins, have been recommended for Padma Shri, sources said.
Former hockey player MP Ganesh and archer Tarundeep Rai have also been recommended for the Padma Shri, they said.