The Indian national football team could have played Trinidad and Tobago, ranked 56th by FIFA, in a preparatory game ahead of their clash with AFC-toppers Iran in the 2018 Russia World Cup pre-qualifiers next month, but instead, the national side are going head-to-head with Nepal, ranked as many as 28 positions below India in the latest rankings, in an international friendly on 31 August.
The Times of India have revealed that there was pressure from the Sports Authority of India (SAI), after India's 2-1 loss to Guam in the Group D World Cup qualifiers earlier in July this year.
The SAI reportedly came down heavily on national coach Stephen Constantine and his entire foreign staff, and also questioned the AIFF regarding the appointment of foreign coaches.
"SAI director general (Inteji Srinivas) questioned Kushal (Das, general secretary, AIFF) over the appointment of so many foreigners in the support staff resulting to nothing," an AIFF insider revealed to TOI.
"They are also unhappy at the way India brought national shame with Guam loss. There were indications of cutting down on annual grant also."
Currently, the sporting body, setup by the Indian Government's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, pays an annual grant of ₹2.5crore to the AIFF for the development of football in India.
SAI is also reportedly keen on the appointment of more Indian coaches in the support staff of the national team, with an aim to developing domestic coaches.
Currently, Constantine's all-foreign support staff consists of Lee Johnson, physiotherapist Daniel Darrel Deigan and goalkeeping coach Rogerio Ramos. Johnson, who is also a former Chelsea academy coach, plays a dual role of being the senior team assistant coach as well as the head coach of India U-19 side.
Facing Iran on 8 September will be one tough affair for the national side, and everyone knows that. Therefore, a good preparatory game against a much-higher ranked opponent could have given a boost, but right now, it's Nepal that the AIFF have zeroed in on as their friendly opponents.
"Stephen wanted to play Trinidad and Tobago and that was the plan initially. Everything was finalised, but after the loss to Guam, things changed rapidly," the insider added.
India are currently ranked 156th in the latest FIFA rankings.