Indian Football- The Renaissance
1 month ago Anand Vardhan 2
The year 2017 would likely go down as one of the better years in terms of football. Having been announced as the hosts of FIFA U-17 world cup 2017, on 5th of December 2013 expectations had been high. To be fair, India as the host nation did not disappoint. The Year also saw the Indian national team achieve their best FIFA rankings in more than two decades-96 and also saw them qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Then there was the surprise club from Mizoram Aizawal FC winning the I league. The women’s football also saw a national league being established in the country for the first time. This year though started with the small club from the northeast making their mark on the national stage.
Aizawal F.C.– The surprise package
Nobody would have predicted that the club which was relegated the season before and were only able to play the 1st division only because the clubs from Goa had pulled out to win the nation’s top division. Having appointed Khalid Jamil, the ex Mumbai FC boss to manage the club’s season. The charismatic manager with the help of some late goals and a watertight defense won the title on the very last day of the season drawing 1-1 at home to Shillong Lajong- another club from the Northeast, This big victory has given the hopes of various small clubs in the country of making a mark at the big stage a big boost.
FIFA U-17 World cup
Being the lowest ranked team in the tournament, not much was expected the team, the Indian U-17 team had certain training camps in Europe last year and the free-flowing form of football they tried to show was imminent. They lost their first match to USA 3-0.The scoreline in Football though never tells you the whole story, the Indian team were actually able to carve out chances through the American defense but failed to score. But we must also admire the fact that playing in front of 40,000 home fans at a world cup is a huge responsibility. A responsibility that showed calmness in the next match against Colombia when Indian forward Jackson Singh Thounaojam became the first Indian footballer to score for the country at a FIFA tournament. Although the hosts lost the match 2-1 and were exposed by Ghana in their final game losing by a margin of 4-0, the boys from all across the country did really play well but the difference in physical abilities was evident. India as a host did exceed the expectations though. It became the most attended FIFA u-17 world cup ever taking over the record made by China in 1986. More than 12,80,000 spectators filled the stands throughout the tournament. Brazil got overwhelming support and so did Spain for the beautiful football at the display. England clinched the u-17 world title against Spain in Kolkata winning 5-2. For India, as a host, the world cup was a huge success. As a footballing nation, a step forward.
The National Team
The Indian national team lost a world cup qualifier to Turkmenistan in March 2016 which practically ended their hopes of reaching the FIFA world cup in 2018. But since then the National team has not lost a single game seeing out wins against Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Macao and, Nepal on their way to qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be held in UAE. This will be India’s First representation on the Asian stage after the 2011 edition of the tournament. The National team has been performing well and getting the well-deserved support at all the home games. Sunil Chhetri sent the Bengaluru crowd into ruptures when he half-volleyed the ball from Jeje Lalpeklua after running with the ball for more than 70 meters against Kyrgyzstan. The was deadlocked until the 69th minute when Chhetri picked the ball inside his own half and dribbled past defenders and snatched at the over the top ball from Jeje, ‘Cometh the hour, Cometh the man!’. The win took them to 96th position in the FIFA rankings and hence proved Stephen Constantine is the right ma for the Indian manager’s job. India Finished the year ranked 105th and they would be hoping to do better this coming year.
The ISL I-League Dilemma
With the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) breathing down the AIFF’s neck for having a single tier league system prompted the AIFF to plan a single league running in the country. The plan though failed to materialize. The ISL is having two more teams in the competition and running for a four-month period now by the I-league at the same moment running parallelly to each other. The AIFF again failed to establish a definite three-tier structure for the Clubs in the country which leaves the small clubs with no ways of playing in the cash-rich ISL which most certainly now with all the stardom and media coverage is the top division in the country. The AIFF’s Chairman Mr.Praful Patel was expected to do a better job in planning the executing a proper structure for the Indian football system but was unsuccessful.For the sponsors, the two month bursts provided by the sports leagues in the country is profitable but Indian football demands a structure like one in England or Spain where 20 different teams fight for the title over a course of nine months, which gives players and coaches ample amounts of time with their teams to try out different tactics and give younger players a chance.
With the Indian Super League now requiring at least 6 Indian players in each team and the, I league allowing new clubs to play and the u-19 team playing as the Indian Arrows, the path looks good but hazy. The year 2017 might just be the beginning of something new in India’s contribution to the ‘beautiful’ game and maybe we might even remember this year as the year in which Indian football was reborn.