As the year 2012 comes to an end, TheHardTackle takes a look ten memorable moments of Indian Football that brought smiles on the faces of fans across the year. The ten memorable moments are listed in the order they happened
Bayern Munich Treat Football Fans As Bhutia Bids Adieu
The World turned its attention to Nehru Stadium in New Delhi as German giants came down to play against the Indian National team on 10th January. The 40,00 strong crowd gathered at the stadium were treated to a spectacle as the likes of Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller, Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben mesmerized with their play.
The match was however special for Baichung Bhutia who played his last match in the national team colors. This was the perfect ending for Bhutia who was largely restricted to the bench at the AFC cup owing to an injury. Bhutia was presented with a Bayern jersey by Philip Lahm just before the match as the Sikkimese Sniper bid adieu to the game. Spectators chanted his name as he was substituted late into the game. the Bayern visit to the nation is likely to pave way for more such exhibtion games in future.
AIFF Regional Academy Opens in Navi Mumbai
With an eye of the future , AIFF opened its first regional academy in Navi-Mumbai with the curriculum prepared by Rob Bann with about 20 odd U-15 boys training at Father Angel School premises. AIFF plans to open up academies in future with Bangalore, Kolkata and Delhi as the possible targets. AIFF is looking to open elite academies where the U-16 and U-17 boys, who graduate from the regional academies, will be inducted. The focus in these academies remains firmly on possesion style of football rather than the long ball game and one must admit that the AIFF deserves credit for this step.
Dempo Crowned Champions Of India
Dempo were crowned the champions of India for an unprecedented fifth making them the most successful Indian club is recent times. Dempo’s team work and ethics coupled with Armando Colcao’s tactical acumen were the hallmark of the season as they displayed immense consistency despite playing almost half of the season with only 2 foreign players. The continuity of Indian players bailed out Dempo as the likes of Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda, Mahesh Gawli and Sameer Naik lead from the front. Younger players like Godwin Franco, Rowilson Rodrigues, Cresson Antao also chipped with impressive performances whenever they were called upon. The star of the campaign however was Ranti Martins who lead the scoring charts with 32 goals.
AFC U-22 – Dawn of a New Era in Indian Football
The AFC U-22 Qualifiers captured imagination of fans across the nation as India featured several players who are ear-marked to be future stars. It was the first time that an Indian team did away with the 4-4-2 formation as Arthur Papas tried out 4-4-3 and 4-5-1 formations. The result was immediate as India trounced Lebanon 5-2 in the opening match thanks to brace from Alwyn George and skipper Jeje Lalpekhlua. They went down to Iraq 2-1 in the next match but George was the star again as he shrugged off three Iraqi defenders to notch a consolation goal.
India then held UAE to a 1-1 draw before dismantling Turkmenistan 4-1 to set up an important clash with Oman for a place in the AFC U-22 main tournament. Sadly, the team came up short and lost 4-0 to the hosts. Despite the loss, the impressive performances have been hailed as the dawn of the new era in Indian Football with the likes of Lalrindika Ralte, Alwyn George, Romeo Fernandes, Manandeep Singh, Souvik Ghosh, Milan Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua earning berths in the senior team camp.
Chettri, Ricketts, Hernandez Make It A Historic Transfer Season
Indian Football witnessed a historic Transfer Season but one man was conspicuous by silence, national team skipper – Sunil Chettri , until the news broke out that the diminutive striker had signed for Sporting Lisbon B, making him the second Indian after Baichung Bhutia to play in Europe. The move was important considering the fact that Chettri had struggled to make it to the first eleven of the Mohun Bagan team last season.
The move was indeed a shot in the arm for the national team skipper after he had unsuccessful trials at Reading and Coventry though some called it a marketing strategy by Sporting to capture the market in India. Despite the fact that Chettri has been given quite less playing time , the move will no doubt enhance Chettri’s skills.
On the domestic front it was Prayag who led the way when they signed 2006 World Cup Costa-Rica midfielder Carlos Hernandez on a one year contract. Dempo followed suit as they signed Rohan Ricketts – former Arsenal and Tottenham midfielder.
Nehru Cup Truimph
Indian National team completed a hat-trick of Nehru Cup triumphs and handed Wim Koevermans his first trophy in very first assignment. After a disappointing first half of the year, where the team bowed out of the AFC Challenge Cup losing all three games and without scoring, this triumph was a sign of relief for the fans. India started with wins against Syria and Maldives before being held by Nepal before beating Cameroon in a thrilling finale via penalties
Playing with a 4-2-3-1 formation, the team showed glimpses of the possession based football – the philosophy advocated by Wim Koevermans. Sunil Chettri played the role of the front-man to perfection while Mehtab Hossain and Lenny Rodrigues were equally impressive while playing as defensive midfielders. Syed Rahim Nabi was another player who stood out It was indeed a complete team effort with all players of the team contributing in the triumph.
Air-India Truimph In Durand Cup
Played in the back-drop of Nehru Cup, the 125th edition of Durand Cup, one of the oldest tournament in the world went unnoticed because of the Nehru Cup going on side by side and also because a lot of top clubs in India decided to give it a miss. The tournament saw Assam Rifles and SESA put in impressive performances to reach the semi-finals at the cost of Pune FC and Sporting Club de Goa which was no doubt an encouraging sign.
It was Air-India who stole the show as they defeated city rivals Dodsal FC to lift the Durand Cup who reached the finals in their first major tournament. The Airmen put to rest all the doubts that were being raised over the future of institutional sided in the country with this win. The midfield duo of Souvik Chakraborty and Micky Fernandez were the stars for Air-India in the campaign and as for Dodsal – the entire nation would look upto to them in the upcoming Division 2 with a lot of hope and optimism
Indian Women Emerge SAFF Champions
The Indian women’s team proved their dominance in the SAFF region by winning the SAFF championship and brought a smile to the faces of fans across the nation. Led by skipper Bembem Devi, they defeated Bangladesh 3-0 and Sri-Lanka 5-0 before routing Bhutan 11-0 in the final group match. Pinky Magar scored a hat-trick as the team reached the semi-finals.
The victories continued as the team blanked Afghanistan 11-0 in the semi-final thanks to hat-tricks from Bembem Devi and Kamala Devi to set up a summit clash with Nepal – another team which had looked dangerous in the tournament. In a tightly contested final Nepal took the lead but goals from Supriya Routray, Bembem Devi and Kamala Devi gave India a well deserved win. Kamala Devi emerged as the top Indian goal-scorer with 7 goals in the tournament.
East-Bengal Win Federation Cup
East-Bengal won their third Federation Cup in four years as they defeated Dempo 3-2 in the extra-time and handed coach Trevor Morgan a gift on his birthday. Despite being placed in a relatively easy group, they made hard work of qualification as they eked out 2-1 and 4-3 wins over ONGC and Kalighat FC after having been held to a 1-1 draw by Sporting Club de Goa. Manandeep and Chdi Edeh were the saviours for East-Bengal as the duo came up with a brace each against Kalighat in the last match. A late winner from Lalrindika Ralte in the extra time took East-Bengal to the final where they pipped Dempo. The performances of young Indian players – Manandeep Singh, Lalrindika Ralte and Arnab Mondal was an icing on the cake
India U-16 Impress; AIFF Bids For 2017 U-17 World Cup
The Indian U-16 team had created a name for itself when they had qualified for the AFC U-16 championship and the team went a step further as they impressed one and all. Drawn in group D along Uzbekistan, Syria and China, the colts faced the mighty Uzbek team in the first round. The Uzbeks had defeated the Indian team 9-0 in the qualifiers but the Indian colts showed immense courage as they came back from a goal down twice to level the score 2-2 but a late goal gave Uzbeks a 3-2. Uttam Rai scored both the goals on both the occasions. India then held Syria to a goalless draw and finished their campaign with a 2-2 draw against China.
With an aim to boost the image of the game in the country, the AIFF submitted a bid for hoisting the 2017 U-17 World Cup. Sepp Blatter ‘s visit to India earlier in the year and talks with the Prime-Minister are a clear indication of FIFA’s enthusiasm to award the tournament to India.