After the heart-breaking nature of India's exit from the AFC Asian Cup, it is safe to say that the national team is at a crossroads of sorts.
A terrific start to the group stages saw India breeze past Thailand, raising hopes of progression to the knockout stages. But a defeat against UAE and a dramatic loss to Bahrain put paid to them as India finished bottom of Group A.
It was followed by head coach Stephen Constantine's resignation after a four-year stint that saw Indian football make massive strides forward. Despite the heartbreak, there was no doubt that India's refreshing and competitive approach in the tournament showcased how the team has improved.
With a change of guard imminent, the onus is on the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and whoever they task with helming the ship to ensure the Blue Tigers build on this showing.
The responsibility is on the stakeholders should be to see India play in the competition regularly and slowly cement their place among the continent's best.
One way to start that process would be to focus on the young guns in the current team and those on the fringes. For they do not lack in ability - both technical and mental.
Not only are these youngsters a confident bunch of players who play fearless football even when pitted against strong teams (as seen in India's matches against China, Oman, Thailand and UAE), they also have gained valuable lessons in game management and handling pressure after the Asian Cup.
But more importantly, by the time the next Asian Cup rolls along, it will be these youngsters who will be leading India's charge. And they need to be equipped and conditioned so that they can take over the mantle of leading the team from the likes of Sunil Chhetri and co.
It is no mean task and it is exactly why the focus should be on the youngsters in the team from now on. They need to be given the responsibility if the Blue Tigers are to prove to the continent that their showing in UAE was no false dawn.
The likes of Ashique Kuruniyan, Anirudh Thapa, Subhasish Bose, Udanta Singh were all impressive in the Asian Cup in phases. Now they must improve their consistency and develop their games to make sure that India do not stagnate.
Also, the 2026 World Cup is set to have eight Asian teams participating, with the total number of teams raised to 48. India, currently ranked 15th in the continent, have a lot to work on if they are to challenge for one of those spots.
There are also talks of the 2022 World Cup being expanded to accommodate 48 teams, though nothing has been decided yet. Anyway, the primary aim for India should be to focus on players who will be in their prime for these tournaments. Also, unearthing new talents or fast-tracking those in the developmental squads to the senior team should also be of priority.
For one thing is sure, India cannot rest on their laurels. When the 2023 Asian Cup comes along, India should be playing in it rather than reminiscing what happened in 2019.