2011 was a good year for Indian football. The year began with India bowing out in group stages of AFC Asia Cup but ended with the team winning a record 6th SAFF Cup title. There were some notable performances in youth level. Indian football fans were exposed to a host of international names this year, including Lionel Messi. In club football, this year saw some of the most intriguing matches in recent times and the demise of one of India’s most successful clubs.


10. Uttam Rai Scores Five Against Kyrgyzstan

 

Uttam Rai has been touted to be the ai???next Baichung Bhutiaai???. Future will tell if Uttam follows the path of the Sikkimese Sniper or not but he certainly has made a strong start to his career. He scored five goals as India thrashed Kyrgyzstan 7-0 in the opening match of U16 AFC Qualifiers. Uttam completed his hattrick in first half as India led 5-0 and added two more in second half to round up the tally.

Overall this was a good year for youth teams in India. The U16 boys performed brilliantly to qualify from a tough group in AFC U16 qualifiers. The same U16 team also finished runner-up in the inaugural SAFF U16 Cup.

The U19 didnai??i??t manage to qualify for U19 AFC Cup but they showed glimpses of their talent. The U19 team also participated in Weifang Cup and reached the last four after defeating FC Adelaide in group stages.

A number of talented youngsters also moved abroad like Varin Mehta to Royal Antwerp FC (Belgium), Ankit Sharma to Club Deportivo San Cristobal (Spain) and Pratik Shinde to Galveston Pirate(USA).

The U13 team was outstanding in AFC U13 Football Festival in Tehran while another U13 team participated in U13 Yamaha Asean Cup in Malaysia.

News has recently come out that AIFF has planned to set up four Academies in different parts of India. This move will surely give a huge boost to Indian football which has often lacked proper plans of youth development in past.


9. The Most Unexpected Winners in History of I-League?

 

Over the years Indian football fans have seen six different clubs lift the title but none were as unexpected as Karim Bencharifaai??i??s Salgaocar. They were never expected to fight for the title, let alone win it. The first Goan club to win NFL barely staved off relegation in 2009/10 season and didnai??i??t show signs of improvement as Mohun Bagan thrashed them in Federation Cup. With Trevor Morganai??i??s East Bengal making a blazing start and Dempo becoming almost invincible in second half of the season, experts expected either of these teams to become Indian champions. Salgaocar was expected to lose their way eventually. The Goan greens, however, kept proving their doubters wrong with each passing round.

Salgaocar won the I-League-Fed Cup double in 2011

The triumvirate of Francis Fernandez, Anthony Barbosa and Gilberto Oliviera combined to form one of the best midfields in Indian football right now. Ryuji Sueoka and ageless Yusif Yakubu scored goals generously while Luciano Sabrosa hardly put a foot wrong in defence. Salgaocarai??i??s come from behind victory over East Bengal was one of the most important matches of last season and decided the fate of the title race.

Karimai??i??s team continued to play some swashbuckling football and captured the Federation Cup title by pulverizing East Bengal in front of their home fans ai??i?? just like Bruno Coutinhoai??i??s Salgaocar did 14 years ago.

The law of averages seems to have finally caught hold of Salgaocar as their performance in I-League 2011/12 has been very bleak till now.


8. Records and Air India Topple in front of Dempo

 

Dempo was in good form coming into their home match against Air India in 2010/11 I-League. Their fans expected a revenge for the loss in first leg but no one could have predicted this out of the world scoreline. In one of the most one sided matches in history of Indian football, Dempo thrashed (is that a correct word?) the Airmen 14-0! Ranty Martins grabbed six goals and Beto scored four as Dempo broke a number of records.

Ranty Martins broke Odafa Okalieai??i??s record of maximum goals scored by a player in an I-League match. Dempoai??i??s win was the biggest in history of Indian top division and their 10 goals tally in second half was another new record. Performance in this match also helped Ranty to eventually become the first player to score 30 goals in one I-League season and win the top scorer award. Curiously, Air India has won both the matches against Dempo before and after this epic loss.


7. Viva Kerala Stage the Mother of All Comebacks

 

Since their promotionAi??the Red Lizards from Pune haveAi??been an extremely difficult team to face in its home ground. They were expected to keep their good home record intact as they raced to a 4-0 lead against Viva Kerala thanks to goals from Edmar, Gurjinder and a brace from Keita. Viva had been one of the worst performers in first half of I-League 2010/11 and Pune FC had Subrata Pal, Indiaai??i??s best goalkeeper in goal. Anil Kumarai??i??s goal on 40th minute was expected to be a consolation goal.

However in second half things went haywire. Felix Chimadkwo made it 4-2 on 54th minute with Pune FC defence showing signs of cracking under pressure. When Bellow Rasaq made it 4-3 16 minutes from the final whistle, the writing was on the wall. There was only one team which could score from there on. Indeed, Anil Kumar scored in the melee on 80th minute to round off the incredible recovery he started. This was the first time any team has come back from four goals down in history of I-League.


6. Indian Football Loses a Powerhouse

 

JCTai??i??s relegation in the end of 2010/11 season was one of the saddest moments in recent Indian football history. The club from Punjab was one of the two clubs to have never been relegated from top division and had set new standards in youth development. Soon after their relegation Samir Thapar, the man who had ignited JCTai??i??s rise to the top, announced the dissolution of their senior team. This news stunned football fraternity across the nation and raised a big question mark over the financial sustainability of Indian football.

They will be missed

 

The only silver lining in this black cloud was JCTai??i??s pledge to continue their youth academy. Ironically, JCTai??i??s U19 captured the Junior I-League title a few days after the club disbanded the senior team.


5. Foreign Interest in Indian Football

 

From former English champions Blackburn Rovers playing in Pune against Pune FC to Bolton Wanderers opening a training camp in Delhi, this year saw an overdrive of foreign interest in Indian football. Significant developments included Liverpool and Manchester United opening football schools in India and Dempo entering into a partnership with Danish club FC Midtjylland, well known for their player development.

German powerhouse Bayern Munich continued its contribution to Indian football with players from Lajong FC and Pune FC being selected for FC Bayern Youth Cup (India) Finals. In December, three time European champions Internazionale launched a talent hunt in association with Tata Tea. A number of Spanish and Italian clubs, including FC Barcelona have also showed interest in opening football schools in India.


4. The Sikkimese Sniper Takes his Final Shot

Ai??

India didnai??i??t perform well as a team but AFC Asian Cup did give some memorable moments. Indiaai??i??s campaign started with an expected thrashing at the hands of Australia with Subrata Pal garnering rave reviews for his performance. Against Bahrain, Sunil Chhetri scored Indiaai??i??s first goal in Asian Cup in almost half a century.

India was not expected to put up a fight against Korea but the teamai??i??s most heartwarming moment came in the last match. Baichung Bhutia, the architect of Indiaai??i??s qualification to the AFC Cup couldnai??i??t play first two matches due to injury. However, against Korea, Bob Houghton chose to bring on the talismanic striker for last fifteen minutes. Playing his first Asian Cup match against the only Asian team to reach last 4 of the world cup seemed a perfect farewell stage as Bhutia made his way into the field amidst deafening cheer.

Thanks for all the wonderful memories, Bhai – the living legend of Indian football!


3. India Dominate and Capture SAFF Cup Title

 

Over the years SAFF Cup victories have become a part and parcel of Indian football but victory in SAFF Cup 2011 edition will be specially remembered. India huffed and puffed in the final match of two previous editions ai??i?? losing one and winning the other after tie-breaker. Savio Medeiraai??i??s team made short work of every team they faced despite going off to a stuttering start. India scored a whopping 16 goals in 5 matches including a 4-0 thrashing of Afghanistan in the final with a capacity crowd cheering for the Blue Tigers.

Indiaai??i??s rich form in front of the goal was largely due to the clinical performancesAi??by Sunil Chhetri who finished the tournament with seven goals. Sunil scored in every match India played, breaking IM Vijayanai??i??s record of scoring most goals in a single SAFF Cup in the process. This SAFF Cup win may not necessarily mean a new dawn in Indian football but the team showed an impressive degree of domination.


2. Messi MagicAi??at Yuva Bharati Krirangan

 

Over the years India has seen a number of international superstars play on Indian grounds. However, none of these players came to India at peak of their career as Lionel Messi did. The diminutive Argentine, best player in the world, arrived in Kolkata to face off against Venezuela at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan. Both Argentina and Venezuela fielded full strength teams as 80,000 spectators turned up for this match.

Messi against Venezuela

The match itself was slightly underwhelming as both teams failed to take control of the match. Messi couldnai??i??t oblige his fans with a goal but did have some moments of magic. It was his corner kick which let Nicolas Otamendi score the only goal of this match. To the thousands of football fans who were glued to television or came at the YBK, the occasion of seeing Lionel Messi easily outweighed the actual match.


1. India Defeat Qatar, in Qatar

.

Before this match India had played Qatar four times, losing every time including a loss which knocked Desmond Bulpinai??i??s teamAi??out ofAi??Olympic qualifiers. India had rarely done well in Middle Eastern countries and routinely struggled with the physical nature of play these teams are accustomed to. Few Indian fans expected the team to get a positive result against the 94th team in the world but Armando Colacoai??i??s boys had a different plan.

Debabrata was fouled inside Qatar box on 16th minute and Sunil Chhetri promptly put India ahead. Colaco made a bold decision and made 10 changes before second half. A fresh Indian team went in for the kill and was rewarded on the 73rd minute as Sushil Singh made it 2-0. Qatar threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Indian defence after the second goal and Ibrahim Khalfan pulled a goal back on 75th minute. Subrata Pal stood tall under the Indian goal and pulled off three brilliant saves as Armando Colacoai??i??s team was handed one of the most memorable victories in recent Indian football history.

Another performance that deserves special mention is the 2-2 draw with UAE in Delhi. India showcased a spirited performance and didnai??i??t disappoint the Delhi crowd which braved a heavy downpour to show up for the game.

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6 Responses to “Indian Football : Ten Most Memorable Moments and Events of 2011”

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  1. Abhik says:

    It was a positive year for Indian football. Thanks for this article.

  2. Sujit says:

    Excellent write up mate !!!
    Thanks for highlighting the memoirs of 2011. have favorited this already. :)

  3. Archak Sengupta says:

    1 JCT closing its shop is not a memorable incident
    2 Gourmangi Scored the first goal in afc asian cup

  4. Arsenalkid700 says:

    How was Argentina vs Venezuela importanat to Indian Football. It did nothing for us really.

  5. The Fool above^ says:

    For starters, it showed the world – and Indians – that India could stage such a huge match and manage World class stars. Also, assure their safety!

  6. wang says:

    Awesum write up….waiting for 10th jan…legend Baichung sfairwell game!