India captain Sunil Chhetri has taken matters into his own hands after only 2,569 fans came to watch their most recent game.
The 33-year-old recorded an impassioned plea on Twitter, saying: “Please come and support us, encourage us, watch us, abuse us, criticise us. Football in India needs you.”
The Blue Tigers, who are ranked 97th in the world, beat Chinese Taipei 5-0 in Mumbai on Friday in the opening match of the Intercontinental Cup, a four-team tournament that also features New Zealand and Kenya.
Chhetri, who scored a hat-trick, added: “To all of you, who have lost hope or don’t have any hope in Indian football, we request you to come and watch us in the stadium.
“It’s not fun to criticise and abuse on internet. Come to the stadium, scream at us, shout at us.”
He also aimed part of his message at Indian football fans who support European club teams.
“Sometimes you guys think the level is not the same so why waste your time?” said Chhetri. “I agree the level is not the same, not even close, but with our desire and determination, we will try our best to make your time worth it.”
Cricket is the most popular sport in India, which has a population of 1.3bn, although a recent survey suggested 41% follow football.
Chhetri’s plea was backed by India cricket captain Virat Kohli, who recorded his own message of support.
“To be called a proud sporting nation, we must accept and support all the sports equally,” he said.
India, coached by former Millwall boss Stephen Constantine, play Kenya in Mumbai on Monday, when Chhetri win his 100th cap.
Ranked at an all-time low of 166th in the world in 2015, India have steadily improved over the past three years to reach their highest ranking.