It’s a no hidden fact that Indian football is on a rise but there’s still a lot of ground to cover if we want to make a big name in the world of football. 2016 is undoubtedly one of the best years for Indian football team in the last decade.
The year started on a high note as India defeated Afghanistan 2-1 to win the SAFF Championship title for the record seventh time. Even if we take a look at statistics then national side played 6 matches so far this year and won 4 out of those 6.
Then came the Asian Cup qualifiers 2019, India travelled away to take on Laos in the first match of the two-legged qualifier and Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the only goal of the match.
In the second leg, India played on their home soil and came back strongly after conceding early to beat Laos 6-1 (7-1 aggregate) at Guwahati to book their place in the final round of qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
Goals from Jeje Lalpekhlua (2), Sumeet Passi, Sandesh Jhingan, Mohammed Rafique and Fulganco Cardozo were enough to cement their place in the next round.
India played their final match of the year against a much higher ranked Puerto Rico at the Mumbai Football Arena and to every fans’ surprise, the Sunil Chhetri-led Indian team outclassed Puerto Rico to beat them 4-1. It was a stellar performance for Stephen Constantine’s men which also recorded one of India’s best performances against such a higher ranked side.
Though the World Cup remained a far-fetched dream for India as they crashed out of Russia 2018 qualifiers but we definitely improved our FIFA rankings as we ended 2015 on a disappointing 166th place in FIFA rankings but now India end 2016 at 135th position, thus jumping 31 places in a year.
It is also India’s highest FIFA ranking since 2010. This jump has been fueled by India’s SAFF Cup victory. It is also due to an improved showing in international friendlies, most notably the 4-1 thumping of 114th ranked Puerto Rico in Mumbai.
Talking about domestic achievements by Indian Clubs, then, Bengaluru FC gave us the moment to cheer for, by finishing up as runners-up in the AFC Cup.
Bengaluru team celebrates after reaching the finals of AFC Cup
Just three years into their existence, Bengaluru reached the summit clash of the AFC Cup, the continent’s second-tier club competition, eventually losing to Air Force Club of Iraq (1-0) to finish as runners-up. It was the first time any Indian club had reached the final of a continental tournament.
Bengaluru FC also retained their I-league title by defeating one of the established clubs, Mohun Bagan in the final match of the tournament.
We also witness some domestic wrangling as clubs like Salgaocar, Sporting club de Goa and Goa’s iconic Dempo SC announced their withdrawal from the I-League in order to protest against a proposal of the All India Football Federation to make the Indian Super League (ISL) the country’s official top competition.
Coming to India’s own football festival i.e. ISL, then, it was Saurav Ganguly’s Atletico de Kolkata who had the last laugh. Indian Super League was back with a bang with its season 3 and thousands of football fanatics turned out at the stadium.
ATK rejoice after winning ISL 2016 trophy
Most of the bets were placed on Delhi Dynamos and Mumbai City FC as they were in the top two of the table for the longest time, however we witnessed repeat of ISL 2014 final in this season also as Kerala hosted ATK in the final match of ISL season 3 in front of 55,000 spectators and it was Atletico de Kolkata who clinched their second ISL trophy by winning the game via penalty shootout.
On the administrative front, Praful Patel was elected as the AIFF President for a third consecutive term and national senior team coach Stephen Constantine was handed a year’s extension after the end of his two-year contract.
Also, in December, All India Football Federation won the AFC Developing Member Association of the Year Award at the Asian Football Confederation’s Annual Awards.
Towards the end of the year, we witnessed the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) announcing the awards for the year 2016. Rowllin Borges was named as the ‘2016 AIFF Emerging Player of the Year’ while Jeje Lalpekhlua bagged ‘2016 AIFF Player of the Year’ award.
Jeje will also receive 2.5 lakh INR along with a trophy for his achievements. Odisha-based football Sasmita Malik was named ‘2016 AIFF Woman Footballer of the Year’ and she will bag 2 lakh INR and a trophy.