By Ayush Srivastava
After the high of participating in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, it was always going to be a tough ask for 2012 to be better for the Indian football faithful.
The year turned out to be a real mixed bag, as Savio Medeira’s catastrophic reign was followed by early signs of promise under Wim Koevermans for the national team, while the All India Football Federation [AIFF] promised and frustrated in equal measures.The I-League too showed some signs of life, but has been let down by various organizational politics. Goal.com summarizes this year’s events – both good and bad.
Savio Medeira was handed the baton as head coach of the Indian national football team almost by default, presided over a horrific AFC Challenge Cup campaign, where India could not score a single goal nevermind win a match. Tajikistan, DPR Korea and Philippines handed the Blue Tigers what could only be described as a royal whipping.
Few were surprised by the result, as the clueless showing against Oman and Azerbaijan in friendlies before the tournament had set the tone for what followed later in Nepal.
After furious protests by fans, the AIFF finally woke up and chose Wim Koevermans as the person to take the football team ahead. The Dutchman pleaded for patience as he tried to instill a pass-and-move tradition with the national team.
He delivered promised results when the national team retained the Nehru Cup, beating a Cameroon “Local Lions” side on penalties in the final. While definitely a much needed boost after the AFC Challenge Cup fiasco, it must be remembered that the win against the African side won India no points to help augment the country’s lowly rating, as it was not a FIFA-recognized game.
The one that counted, a friendly against Singapore, was lost by the Blue Tigers, acting as a reality check for players and fans who thought India were too good for their FIFA Ranking, which by the way stands at 166 now, 11 places down on where India were at the start of the year.
The showing by the U-22 side in the AFC Championship qualifying tournament, in which they defeated Lebanon and Turkmenistan, was promising. The side, coached by Australian Arthur Papas, also gave a good account of themselves against Iraq and Oman, to give India’s long suffering fans some hope for the future.
Further bolstering such hopes was India’s decision to bid for the U-17 World Cup in 2017. While Rob Baan and the AIFF’s Vision 2022 might be a debatable quest, hosting the U-17 global tournament will definitely be a step in the right direction. With the nation crying out for infrastructure at the grassroots level, some new stadiums, that will need to be built or upgraded for this tournament, will certainly help India progress. A long-term partnership with FIFA, which was also announced during FIFA secretary general, Jerome Valcke’s visit to India, should also help move India forward.
|DOMESTIC LEAGUES AND CUPS
Armando Colaco claimed his fifth league title during his time with Dempo SC, as he led the Goans comfortably over the line in the 2011-12 season. East Bengal gave it their best shot, but failed to break the Kolkata hoodoo in the I-League, as no club from the football-crazy city has won the tournament in its newest form.
After finishing as runner-ups in the last two league campaigns, the Red and Gold’s were desperate not to repeat that feat in the Federation Cup as well. Trevor Morgan’s side though, dispelled any fears of them being the perennial bridesmaid, as they edged past Dempo 3-2 in a pulsating final to clinch the trophy.
They carried the same form into the 2012-13 I-League season, going unbeaten for the first 10 rounds of the campaign and conceding just a single goal before Prayag United finally got the better of them. Currently in third place, one should not write off their chances of claiming a long-awaited league title in 2013.
The AFC Cup was a forgettable affair for both Salgaocar and East Bengal, with the duo finishing bottom of the pile in their respective groups.
Sunil Chhetri became the first Indian to play in Portugal, when he signed for Sporting Clube de Portugal’s “B” side on July 4. The striker made his debut for the Liga de Honra side in their 2-0 victory over S.C. Freamunde on 30 September 2012 after he came on as a substitute.
Brandon Fernandes, who trains with ASD Cape Town in South Africa, had trials with Reading FC and Leicester City. Neither though proved to be successful, although the clubs promised to continue monitoring his progress. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu's stint with Wigan was largely for training purposes.
|PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Syed Rahim Nabi, Mohun Bagan and national team|
Almost every Indian football follower will hope for a speedy recovery for the versatile Nabi, who was unfortunately injured by a stray stone thrown by someone from the crowd in the Kolkata derby.
Over the past 12 months, the Mohun Bagan player, who plays in midfield for club while being India’s premier left wing-back, has established himself as a powerhouse. He was perhaps one of the few players who came out with any credit after India’s debacle at the AFC Challenge Cup.
He has continued in the same form under Koevermans, bombing up and down the left wing during the Nehru Cup as India’s best performer. Adept at providing good crosses into the box and even proving to be a threat around goal himself, Nabi has also been defensively India’s most solid player.
For Mohun Bagan, he often turns out at the right wing, being perhaps the only other player apart from Odafa Okolie who is capable of lifting the team away from mediocrity.
|MOMENT OF THE YEAR | India bid for the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup
There was plenty to moan about during the AIFF’s Platinum Jubilee Year, but if there is one good thing to remember of this landmark, it's the organization's decision to bid for the 2017 U-17 World Cup.
Encouraged by FIFA, which also announced a partnership with India to help the game develop in the country, Praful Patel finally announced that the government would back the AIFF, in a bid to bring the global tournament which shall feature the next generation’s superstars to the country.
|WISHES FOR INDIAN FOOTBALL IN 2013
India’s decision to bid for the U-17 World Cup and FIFA’s monetary and technical support to the country form a nice base to build on for 2013.
2013 would be a great year, if it saw the Blue Tigers finally climb up the FIFA rankings to a more respectable position than their present standing of 166. Qualification to the AFC Challenge Cup that shall be held in Maldives would be a perfect icing on the cake.
For the I-League, one can only hope that professionalism finally starts to seep into the foundations of the clubs as well as the AIFF. The disputes between the two and IMG-Reliance should be sorted as soon as possible to finally move the league towards the right direction.
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