Football: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

Contents

India's international ranking

1947-2017

The Indian team has been ranked among the world's top 100 six times (May 05 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)

1996, February, India's international ranking

Fifa ranking: 94 (India's best achieved ever)

History

AFC Challenge Cup

2011

Praveen R. Paramasivam, INDIA AT ASIAN CUP 2011, January 4, 2019: The Times of India


India’s AFC Challenge Cup triumph in 2008 paved the way for qualification to the 2011 event in Doha. Sunil Chhetri and Bhaichung Bhutia had combined to score seven goals in the Challenge Cup at home, but could not replicate the same success in Qatar as India lost all three group games. Being grouped alongside eventual runners-up Australia and third-placed South Korea didn’t help matters as India crashed out of the tournament with the worst defensive record among the 16 participating teams. Coach Bob Houghton didn’t last long after India’s campaign ended with Chhetri’s goals against South Korea and Bahrain providing rare joy.

2019

India beat Thailand 4-1

THAI HIGH FOR INDIA, January 7, 2019: The Times of India

Thailand vs India- AFC Asian Cup, 2019
From: THAI HIGH FOR INDIA, January 7, 2019: The Times of India


CHHETRI SCORES TWO IN THUMPING 4-1 WIN

India grabbed attention on the continental stage for the first time since 1964 after scripting a stunning 4-1 demolition of Thailand in their opening Group A battle of the Asian Cup 2019 at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

India were the higher-ranked side in this opening round battle but not many gave them a chance of walking away with full points. When Sunil Chhetri scored from the spot to go past Argentinean superstar Lionel Messi in the all-time active leading international goalscorers’ list and put India ahead in the 27th minute, many fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Five minutes later, Thailand equalised through Teerasil Dangda and it seemed business as usual.

Thailand were clearly several notches above India. But no sooner the ends were changed, India were a transformed side. Chhetri scored his second of the night to give India the lead again early in the half, before goals from Anirudh Thapa, his first at the senior level, and Jeje Lalpekhlua, his first in 10 months, helped India record a historic victory.

The win was India’s first at the Asian Cup since June 1964 and the biggest win for them in the tournament’s history since defeating Hong Kong 3-1 the same year. India also equalled their biggest win over Thailand, achieved when they were crowned Asian champions in 1962.

This is India’s fourth appearance at the continental championship but apart from 1964, finishing fourth in a four-team final league, India did not taste victory in 1984 and 2011. India’s four goals against Thailand were more than what they managed in the previous two editions.

Coach Stephen Constantine took a gamble by benching Jeje Lalpekhlua, the second highest goalscorer in the team and the most experienced after Chhetri. That decision, however, proved to be a masterstroke as his replacement, Ashique Kuruniyan, was the most impressive player in the opening half. His pace and trickery on the left troubled Thailand and it was the FC Pune City winger who won the penalty as Theerathon Bunmathan, in a desperate attempt to halt his run, handled the ball inside the box. Chhetri kept his cool to send the goalkeeper the wrong way with the resultant penalty.

Thailand equalised from a set-piece five minutes later. But the second half left everyone shell-shocked. Chhetri initiated a well-crafted move and released the speedy Udanta Singh into space down the right flank. The Bengaluru FC winger crossed into the box where Ashique flicked it for Chhetri to finish superbly into the top left corner of the net.

India lost 0-2 to the UAE

January 11, 2019: The Times of India


India repeatedly hit the woodwork but hosts UAE weather storm to win 2-0

Hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) huffed and puffed their way to a 2-0 victory over India in a Group A encounter of the Asian Cup 2019 in Abu Dhabi.

After a late draw against Bahrain, UAE were expected to strike hard at India. Instead, it was the Indian team who created the better chances, and had it not been for the brilliance of rival goalkeeper Khalid Bilal, or the goalpost, Sunil Chhetri’s team could have even had the last laugh.

In the end, UAE got their campaign back on track with goals in either half from Khalfan Mubarak (42nd minute) and Ali Ahmed Mabkhout (88th minute). They have now moved to the top of the table with four points, while India are second with three points and will qualify if they can manage a draw against Bahrain in the concluding league clash on Monday.

Almost everyone expected India to sit back and hit the hosts on the counter, but Stephen Constantine’s unchanged side had more than a fair share of chances.

It was goalkeeper Bilal who kept the hosts in the hunt with two stunning saves. The first was in the 12th minute when Chhetri intercepted a poor pass in the middle and released Ashique Kuruniyan with a through ball. The FC Pune City winger dribbled his way through, but with only the keeper at his mercy, couldn’t get it past his fingertips.

The keeper measured up to the challenge again in the 23rd minute, this time spectacularly keeping away Chhetri’s header from handshaking distance. At the other end, India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had very little to do. UAE could hardly trouble the India defence.

India lost 0-1 to Bahrain

January 15, 2019: The Times of India

Asian Cup, Group A standings- India lost 0-1 to Bahrain: 2019
From: January 15, 2019: The Times of India


Crash Out After Loss To Bahrain; Constantine Calls it Quits

For Stephen Constantine’s boys, the equation was simple: eke out a draw against Bahrain and advance from the Group A. India held

onto a goalless scoreline for 90 minutes only to concede a penalty in the first minute of the added time in the second half to lose 0-1 and bow out of the tournament.

Indian team coach Stephen Constantine reportedly resigned soon after the narrow defeat.

With the group’s other game between UAE and Thailand finishing 1-1, India ended at the bottom of Group A with three points. UAE topped the group with five points while Bahrain finished second with four points followed by Thailand (4).

In one of the biggest nights in the history of Indian football, the players made sure that it didn’t go to waste till 90 minutes. India measured up to Bahrain’s physical play, electrifying pace and intensity by their grit and composure. In a battle of nerves, Indian players showed theirs were made of steel before captain Pranoy Halder tripped Shamsan inside the box. The referee didn’t hesitate to point towards the spot and Jamal Rashid found the back of the net with ease.

Needing a win to qualify for the knockouts, Bahrain came out all guns blazing. They got the first whiff of the goal as early as in the sixth minute but Bahrain’s Sayed Dhiya Saeed’s long-ranger was thwarted away by an alert Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

That India conceded a penalty in the dying minutes was also because Stephen Constantine got his tactics wrong in the second half. For a team which has played some thrilling football in their first two matches, they resorted to playing ultra-defensive football. Bahrain forwards and midfielders were given a lot of space to operate and they conjured a procession of attacks.

Even though centreback Sandesh Jhingan played his best game, putting his body behind everything and dealing with every threat comfortably, and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood tall under the bar, it wasn’t enough in the end.

Coach Bhowmick’s best India’s XI in history

Subhas Bhowmick- (As told to Marcus Mergulhao), May 31, 2018: The Times of India

COACH: SUBHAS BHOWMICK
Indian football has, perhaps, seen more successful coaches. SA Rahim, Amal Dutta, PK Banerjee, even Armando Colaco could rank ahead of him, but nobody is quite like Subhas Bhowmick. His character, out-ofthe-box thinking and daredevil approach is just what an all-star team needs. “I’ll handle this team any day, anytime,” he says.
From: Subhas Bhowmick- (As told to Marcus Mergulhao), May 31, 2018: The Times of India

It’s never an easy task to handpick the best XI footballers that India has produced. There are so many greats, you do not know whom to include and whom to leave out. I would pick only those whom I have seen in the prime of their careers.

Peter Thangaraj would be the first name on the team-list. I’ve seen a wide range of superb goalkeepers — Sanat Shet, SS Narayanan, Bhaskar Ganguly, Tarun Bose. The list is endless, but to guard India’s goal, you cannot find a better goalkeeper than Thangaraj. He was like Lev Yashin, the legendary USSR goalkeeper. When he spread his hands, he looked like a full-fledged eagle in the sky. His ability to pick up players almost 40-45 metres away was also unmatched.

Sudhir Karmakar, at rightback, is India’s greatest ever, and you cannot look beyond him. At the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok, Fifa officials could not believe their eyes and wondered how a player of Sudhir’s ability was playing in India.

Arun Ghosh and Jarnail Singh are made for each other as India’s best central-defensive pairing. While Arun is technically very sound, Jarnail’s clearing and covering — not to forget fierce determination — made him an automatic choice. At left-back, there are several choices but none better than SK Azizuddin.

Yousuf Khan and Tulsidas Balaram would be my picks for central midfield. Picking Yousuf over Sudip Chatterjee is a tough call, but Yousuf is a complete footballer. I have seen him play stopper back for India, midfield and centre forward as well. Many would say Balaram was an attacker but he is another complete footballer. He could defend, and attack, and when the ball was at his feet, you couldn’t really figure out his next move.

PK Banerjee on the right wing and Chuni Goswami in the hole behind the lone striker are choices which I don’t even need to explain. And Sunil Chhetri is the lone player from the current generation who makes my best XI on the left wing. Surprised? Don’t be.

For the last 30-35 years, he is easily the best Indian footballer that I have seen. Since returning from Portugal and joining Churchill Brothers, where I was the technical director, there is an amazing transformation. His approach has changed. At 32, can you really tell the difference between Sunil and any foreign player? I am amazed. He is technically sound, blessed with speed, can score with both feet and is not found lacking with headers too.

IM Vijayan would walk into any India XI, and I had penciled him in first as the lone striker in this line-up.

But later, I went for Inder Singh. Inder could change the course of a match with a moment of brilliance and he gets my vote ahead of Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia.

This is one fierce team. A team that has stability, creativity and five players who can get you the goals which win matches.

Famous footballers who have played in India

I

Marcus Mergulhao, Football’s superstars in the backwaters, May 31, 2018: The Times of India

Best XI from among those footballers who have played in India
From: Marcus Mergulhao, Football’s superstars in the backwaters, May 31, 2018: The Times of India

India is famous as a land of vociferous, but displaced, football fans. While we swear allegiance to foreign clubs and watch with disbelief at each ageing star who lands on our shores, there was a time when the odd global legend would show up — complete with all his quirks — to give us a memory for all time

A World Cup winner landed in India with a personal photographer and physio, another one was involved in a nasty fist-fight with the rival coach and the most famous of them all couldn’t really hide his weakness for a cigarette, even in the dressing room.

Footballers of all shades have played in India. From those on the run, painters looking for an alternative profession and students have been welcomed by clubs in the past. But there have been some real winners too, those who proved themselves on the biggest stage of them all.

Convincing them wasn’t easy, though. Diego Forlan, the Uruguayan who won the Fifa Golden Ball as the outstanding player at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, wanted guaranteed access to a golf course before joining Mumbai City FC.

Another man who would go on to win top individual honours at a World Cup, however, arrived in India to prove himself. Remember Salvatore Schillaci? Goa had heard this name, and even seen him, much before he won the Golden Boot as the leading goal scorer at Italia 1990 and Golden Ball as the best player.

In 1984, Schillaci played at a 4,000-capacity stadium in Goa which was later razed down to make way for parking space. He was part of an Italian under-23 reserves, and never looked like the man who would surprise the world with his six goals in a World Cup six years later.

Then there was Paolo Maldini, who lazed around on the Calangute beach in North Goa, and attracted attention only when he visited a famous night club in the vicinity. “I took him to the night club and next day the Italian press reported that Maldini was enjoying in Goa rather than focus on his recuperation. He was here with his physio,” said Fabian Fernandes, a local panch and founder of Goa United Sports Club.

After his IFA Shield final visit in the 1980s, in 1993, Bobby Moore, England’s only World Cup winning captain of 1966, was once again convinced to be the chief guest, of all events, for an inter-Village football tournament in Goa. “He was disgusted with the football but sat through the match and gave away the prizes,” said one of the organisers.

The advent of the Indian Super League has opened the doors for superstars to consider India as an option at the fag end of their careers. Italian Alessandro del Piero received Rs 10.8 crore for a four-month stint with Delhi Dynamos that yielded just one goal in 10 matches. Del Piero, however, was undoubtedly a star, roaming around with a personal photographer, physio and a posse of bodyguards.

Most others had no airs about themselves and mingled freely with everyone. Arsenal legend Robert Pires went out of his way to make it comfortable for everyone at FC Goa, often driving for several kilometres to have lunch with his teammates. The Frenchman only lost his cool when he was involved in a fist-fight with Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) coach Antonio Habas and, when relegated to the bench, was involved in a war of words with his coach Zico, another legend of the game.

Top Brazilians have been here in plenty. Lucio, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, can easily be counted among the humblest of footballers who helped his driver buy a luxury four-wheeler and start a business of his own.

His Brazil teammate and World Cup winner, Roberto Carlos, was famous for smoking wherever he could find some privacy, and, some players suspect, it included toilets in the dressing room.

Before the ISL, there were World Cuppers playing for in Indian clubs too. Iran’s Majid Bhiskar was the first among all, and then there was Nigerian striker Emeka Ezeugo, who was detained for unlawful possession of a firearm. The Nigerian is the only player to first have a career in India before playing at the World Cup.

Many have struggled, none more than Michael Rodriguez. The Costa Rican who was part of the national squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany landed at United Sikkim FC – owned by Bhaichung Bhutia – and soon discovered life wasn’t going to be easy. “Nobody could understand Spanish in Sikkim, and he had no clue about English,” said a former teammate.

It was frustrating for Rodriguez but he soon found a way: sign language. He survived the entire season without speaking a word!

II

May 31, 2018: The Times of India


Diego Forlan

(Mumbai City): Golden Ball winner at the 2010 World Cup with five goals that took Uruguay to the semifinals, Forlan was the marquee player for Mumbai City FC in ISL 2016 and took them to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Oliver Kahn

(Bayern Munich): Voted best player of the 2002 World Cup and three times world goalkeeper of the year, Oliver Kahn played his farewell game for Bayern Munich as the Bundesliga champions defeated Mohun Bagan 3-0 in 2008.

Thomas Mueller

(Bayern Munich): The German hero, who won the Golden Boot during the 2010 World Cup, has played twice in India, first with Bayern reserves at the IFA Shield in 2005 and then for Oliver Kahn’s Bayern farewell in 2008 and in Bhutia’s farewell game in 2012.

Gianluca Zambrotta

(Italy, 2006): Among the better coaches to grace the ISL, Zambrotta guided Dynamos to a place in the semifinals. His tactics and playermanagement saw Delhi play their best football and they were unlucky to lose against Blasters on penalties.

Alessandro Del Piero

(Italy, 2006): The most expensive player in Indian football, Del Piero never really lived up to his billing. Just one goal through Dynamos’ campaign in the ISL seemed poor returns for the Rs 10.8 crore that they invested in the Italian goal machine.

David Trezeguet

(France, 1998): David Trezeguet has scored more than 300 goals in his career but the French striker struggled to replicate the same form for FC Pune City. In the eight matches, he scored two goals, and warmed the bench for some matches.

Freddie Ljungberg

'(Sweden, Arsenal): Injury never really allowed him to excel as marquee player for Mumbai City FC but whenever he took the field, there were glimpses of the style that made him an Invincible and fan favourite at Highbury and Emirates.

Alessandro Nesta

(Italy, 2006): The elegant defender was preparing to play a legends match in Bangkok when he got a call from Materazzi to join him at Chennaiyin as a replacement for Stiven Mendoza. He spent less than a month in Chennai.

Laszlo Kiss

(Hungary): A blend of handsome looks and silky skills, Laszlo Kiss played for Hungary in the 1982 World Cup. Was the first substitute to score three goals in a World Cup match against El Savador. Played in the Nehru Cup in 1984.

Roger Milla

(Diamond Club): The Cameroon striker caught the world’s attention with his goal celebrations at Italia ’90. A few months later, he toured India and played a match for Diamond Club as part of Mohun Bagan’s centenary celebrations.

I-League

Division II

2018: 23 teams nominated

Hindustan, J&K Bank among 23 nominated for I-League Div II, November 21, 2018: The Times of India


Local club Hindustan FC, which was pipped to the I-League post by Real Kashmir FC in the qualifying tournament for this season, has once again been nominated for the second division of the I-League. Kolkata giants Mohammedan Sporting are also in the fray. In further assertion of the re-emergence of football in Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir Bank and Lonestar were nominated among twentythree teams by state associations for the second division on Tuesday.

NOMINATED CLUBS: Kerala: SAT Tirur, Quartz FC, FC Kerala; Delhi: Hindustan FC, Sudeva Moonlight, Delhi United; Manipur: TRAU FC, SSU-Singjamei; Meghalaya: Langsning FC; Mizoram: Chhinga Veng; Sikkim: United Sikkim; West Bengal: Mohammedan Sporting, Rainbow Athletic; Jammu and Kashmir: Lonestar Kashmir, J&K Bank.

Referees

2019: Poor pay leaves referees in the lurch

Krishnakanta Chakraborty, Poor pay leaves refs in the lurch, March 21, 2019: The Times of India

2019: The state of football referees in India in a nutshell
From: Krishnakanta Chakraborty, Poor pay leaves refs in the lurch, March 21, 2019: The Times of India


AIFF Refuses To Renew Monthly Contract Of Elite Panel Officials

Referee M Santosh Kumar, one of the prominent faces in the Indian football circle, is currently ‘resting’ back home in Kottayam after a hectic I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) season. But then, there’s not much time to rest as Santosh has to take his auto-rickshaw out everyday — his livelihood depends on the number of trips he makes from the Kottayam railway station to various part of the town, earning upto Rs 600 per day.

Santosh, who won the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Best Referee of the Year award in 2015, cannot depend on his football career to take care of his family. For a referee who officiates in close to 20 matches in a domestic season, he doesn’t get a fixed salary from the AIFF and it’s only the daily allowances that he has to depend upon.

“I love football and that’s why I am a referee. But that doesn’t give me any financial securtity. I have to drive my auto-rickshaw whenever I am home to take care of my family,” Santosh, who is also a FIFA referee, told TOI.

Santosh’s isn’t a case in isolation. There are approximately 135 national-level referees who form the AIFF category 1 and 2, apart from the 11 AFC elite panel referees. Most of them don’t have a permanent income and it’s a struggle to keep their refereeing careers alive.

A national-level referee receives Rs 4,000 as daily allowance in addition to free travel and accommodation for officiating in an I-league match while for an ISL game he gets approximately Rs 10,500 (after deducting TDS) per match.

Earlier, the elite panel referees and assistant referees used to be paid a monthly salary of Rs 30,000 and Rs 25,000, in addition to the daily allowances for the games they used to officiate. But in a recent cost-cutting measure, the AIFF has decided to to do away with the monthly salary, which has made things difficult for the top four Indian referees Pranjal Banerjee, CR Srikrishna, A Rowan and Tejas Nagvenkar.

The situation is no different for the seven assistant panel referees.

Year-wise history

2005

June 2005

In India’s first ever football series with Pakistan, India won on 16 June in Peshawar after a 1-0 win put the team a game ahead. India won the three-match series on goal-average.


2015

2015: India wins SAFF Cup

The Times of India Jan 05 2016

Bhaichung Bhutia

It has been a perfect start to the year for Indian foot ball. Not only have India have clinched the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015, but also won the hearts of the country's football lovers.These are my ratings for the Indian team after the final: Gurpreet Sandhu (810) Stood up for the occasion with great responsibility .Augustine Fernandes (7.5 10) Played with good organization and was disciplined in his approach.Narayan Das (810) What stood was his ability to attack from the left.Pritam Kotal (710) He would have had a bigger impact had he played with greater attacking intent.Arnab Mondal (7.510) Made the most of his ISL experience and formed a good combination with Augustine. Rowlin Borges (8.5 10) Certainly someone who will play a key role in Indian football in the future.Eugeneson Lyngdoh (7.5 10) Made a good effort to stay upfront and make in roads.Bikash Jairu (810) Adapted extremely well with the 4-23-1 formation.Holicharan Narzary (8.5 10) Showed great skill with his feet, made plenty of attacking efforts.Jeje Lalpekhlua (810) With three goals in the tournament, Jeje was India's most valuable attacker and did his job wonderfully.Sunil Chhetri (910) ­ In a game that went down to the wire, the skipper turned up.Captaining India to victory , Chhetri handled his responsibility perfectly. PMG

2015, India's international ranking

Fifa ranking: 101

2015: Asian Football Confederation rankings

The Times of India, Sep 14 2015

AFC'S MARKING SYSTEM - India 22nd in technical ranking

A new technical ranking system of the Asian Football Confederation has placed India in 22nd spot among the continent's 46-member countries, the highest among South Asian nations. The technical ranking system released by the AFC recently takes into account the performance of the national team and clubs (at AFC competitions) of a particular country in the last four years and points are given accordingly. India has 18.636 points (11.951 for performance by national team + 9.318 for per formance by clubs) in the latest technical rankings. India lies 27th among AFC countries in the latest FIFA rankings (155th in the world). South Korea leads the technical rank ings chart with 88.354 points (63.326+25.028), followed by Saudi Arabia (84.666), Iran (79.435), Japan (71.191), UAE (68.261), Australia (65.395), China (61.229), Qatar (56.280), Uzbekistan (52.334) and Kuwait (43.635) in top 10.

2017, India's international ranking

Fifa ranking: 100 (No. 100 spot shared with Nicaragua, Lithuania and Estonia)

The best players of 2017

February 2, 2018: The Times of India


The third Mahindra Scorpio Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA) powered by All-Out, is India’s first and largest multi discipline people’s choice sports awards. TOISA is a platform created by the Times Group to recognise and reward Indian sporting talent and achievements on a global scale and will be held soon to honour the lion hearts who have done the country proud.

GURPREET SINGH SANDHU

Made a string off impressive saves during the Indian team’s unbeaten run this year. His stellar work in front of goal relieved the pressure of India’s defenders and strikers and proved the difference in several wins. Kept clean sheets against Myanmar, Nepal, Kyrgyz Republic and Macau. In particular, his defensive role in the 1-0 win over the Kyrgyz Republic during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers was brilliant.

BALWANT SINGH

Scored three crucial goals for India in their wins over Mauritius and Macau, helping the team qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Scored four goals in the I-League for runners-up Mohun Bagan. Was the leading scorer with three goals in the Federation Cup where Mohun Bagan also finished runners-up.

CK VINEETH

The joint-highest Indian scorer in the I-League with seven goals with Sunil Chettri. Scored two goals in the Federation Cup in Benguluru FC’s successful run to the title. Struck twice in extra time to pave the way for Bengaluru FC’s 2-0 win over Mohun Bagan in the summit clash.

SUNIL CHHETRI

India’s top goal-scorer of 2017 with six, including leading role in wins over Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Macau. Two of his goals were at the death - against Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan - and proved the only ones of the match. Captained India to an unbeaten record all year. Became the all-time top scorer in India’s top-tier football league, the I-League, with his 90th goal. With his, Chhetri went past Bhaichung Bhutia’s tally of 89. Finished the joint-highest Indian scorer in the 2016-17 I-League with seven goals. Took his international goal tally to 56, surpassing Romario (55), Gabriel Batistuta (54) and Wayne Rooney (53).

DHEERAJ SINGH MOIRANGTHEM

With 16 saves, finished 10th on the list of top saves at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Pulled off four saves versus Colombia, the one in the 42nd minute to deny Yadir Meneses the standout effort. Made a string off impressive saves during the 0-3 loss to USA.

SANDESH JHINGAN

Scored four international goals this year. Contributed goals to India’s wins over Cambodia and Nepal. Led India to the Hero Tri-Nation Football Series, where the team one a game and drew the other. Member of the Bengaluru FC side that won the Federation Cup, which was his first top tier piece of silverware.

The best Indian teams, (form as in January 2017)

The Times of India, Jan 07 2017

A 10-TEAM AFFAIR

 BENGALURU FC Best performance:

I-League champions (2014, 2016); Coach: Albert Roca; Skipper: Sunil Chhetri; Ground: Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru

MOHUN BAGAN Best performance:

National Football League champions (1998, 2000, 2002); I-League champions (2015); Coach: Sanjoy Sen; Skipper: Katsumi Yusa; Ground: Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, Kolkata

EAST BENGAL Best performance:

National Football League champions (2001, 2003, 2004); Coach: Trevor Morgan; Skipper: Mehtab Hossain; Ground: Barasat Stadium, Kolkata

MUMBAI FC Best performance:

Fifth (2016); Coach: Santosh Kashyap; Skipper: Steven Dias; Ground: Cooperage Stadium, Mumbai

SHILLONG LAJONG FC Best performance:

Sixth (2014, 2016) Coach: Thangboi Singto; Skipper: Chinglensana Singh; Ground: Nehru Stadium, Shillong

AIZAWL FC Best performance:

Eighth (2016); Coach: Khalid Jamil; Skipper: Rohmingthanga; Ground: Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl

DSK SHIVAJIANS Best performance:

Ninth (2016); Coach: Dave Rogers; Skipper: Subrata Paul; Ground: Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Pune

CHURCHILL BROTHERS Best performance:

I-League champions (2009, 2013); Coach: Joseph Afusi; Skipper: Keenan Almeida; Ground: Fatorda Stadium, Goa

MINERVA PUNJAB FC (DEBUTANTS) Best performance:

Debutants (2017); Coach: Surinder Singh; Skipper: Manandeep Singh; Ground: Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana

CHENNAI CITY FC Best performance:

Debutants (2017); Coach: Robin Charles Raja; Skipper: Dharmaraj Ravanan; Ground: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai


MAKING THEIR DEBUT....

Minerva Punjab FC bring top-flight football back to Ludhiana and north India following JCT's pullout after the 2010-11 season. Down south, Chennai City FC are the second club from Tamil Nadu to play in the national league after Indian Bank during 2006-16

March 2017

Mar 23 2017, The Times of India

The Indian football team broke the jinx of not having won an away international friendly since June 2005 when they beat Cambodia 3-2 at the Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium. Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sandesh Jhingan scored the goals.

The victory did come as a welcome relief for India who were playing their first match after mauling Puerto Rico in September 2016.

2017, April: World’s No. 101, Asia’s 11th

India rise to 101, ranked 11th in Asia, April 7, 2017: The Times of India

Indian football upswing is reflecting in the FIFA rankings with the senior national team achieving a ranking of 101, its best ever in over two decades. The ranking of 101elevated India to 11th ranked team in Asia, thus, inching closer towards realizing larger dreams.

The Stepehen Constantine-guided national team, in the last two years, has had 11 victories in 13 matches (including an unofficial match against Bhutan) scoring a total of 31 goals. National coach Constantine said: “It has been a difficult road. Bringing in new blood and creating competition for places in the team has been a process, and I'm pleased we are moving in the right direction.“ captain Sunil Chhetri said, “This change in ranking also pushes us up on the Asian circuit and working our way up further will give us favorable draws in continental competitions. Our biggest task now is to make it out of the Asian Cup qualifiers.

2017, May: FIFA rankings, India amongst top 100

First time in two decades! India break into top 100, May 5, 2017: The Times of India


When Stephen Constantine took charge of the national team for the second time two years ago, one of his primary objectives was to help India break into the top 100 of Fifa rankings.

The widely-travelled British coach's wish was fulfilled as India jumped one place to be ranked No. 100 in the latest Fifa rankings released on Thursday . This is the first time in 21 years, and only the sixth occasion after Independence, that the Indian team has been ranked among the world's top 100.

Constantine's side shares the No. 100 spot with Nicaragua, Lithuania and Estonia. India's best Fifa ranking is 94, achieved in February 1996.

“As long as we keep heading up the ladder, I am happy . It means that we are heading in the right direction. There are major matches ahead and we cannot take things lightly. There's no place for complacency ,“ Constantine said in an All India Football Federation statement.

According to former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, a progress in rankings reflects a “perception“ about a country's standard. “No doubt the national team has been doing well in recent times and it has been reflected in the latest Fifa rankings. Rankings are determined not just by a team's performance, but by many other factors. However, what it does is create a positive perception about a country's football,“ he said.

==2017, May: Second division I-League: Neroca FC wins title== Manipur club wins 2nd div I-League title, May 23, 2017: The Times of India


Manipur's Neroca FC won the second division I-League beating Lonestar Kashmir FC 4-1to become the first team from any northeastern state to achieve the feat. The victory in Kashmir lifted Neroca to 23 points from 9 matches, 7 points clear of Kolkata's Southern Samity .

AIFF general secretary Kushal Das lavished praise on the champions saying: “After Aizawl FC's success we have another team from the North East who are keeping the flag flying high. I am sure their achievement will encourage more to take up the sport and spur off another social revolution, this time in Manipur.“

Following their sole loss in the zonal round to Mohammedan Sporting in Jan 2017, Neroca FC went on to continue an enviable unbeaten run of 12 matches including win against Lonestar Kashmir FC. In the final round, the Gift Raikhan-coached side conceded only three goals in eight matches while netting not less than fifteen.

2017, June: ISL gets AFC berth, I-League on brink

Marcus Mergulhao, ISL gets AFC berth, I-League on brink, June 11, 2017: The Times of India 

Bengaluru, Possibly Tatas, To Sign Up; AIFF Moots Super Cup Format

The Indian Super League (ISL) has successfully managed to wean away Bengaluru FC from the I-League, reducing India's premier football competition to a secondary event much before anyone had predicted. Bengaluru FC will be among the two new ISL teams ­ the other likely to be Tatas -which will be announced in the next 48 hours.

The Federation Cup champions have made it clear that they want to be part of a league that guarantees them a place in continental competitions ­ AFC Cup ­ and with AIFF now deciding to play both leagues simultaneously for six months, one AFC Cup slot will be handed over to the ISL champions.

“We have submitted our bid which means we want to play in the ISL. Our biggest concern has also been taken care of,“ said Bengaluru FC chief technical officer Mandar Tamhane, referring to the AFC Cup slot they had been seeking. Meanwhile, in Delhi, the meeting between I-League clubs and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) remained inconclusive as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal sought more time to decide. Both clubs are expected to revert to the AIFF on Tuesday.

The AIFF, however, proposed a Super Cup to be played immediately after the conclusion of the two leagues with the winner qualifying for the AFC Champions League play-off and runner-up earning an AFC Cup slot. The Super Cup will be a contest between the four top teams each from both leagues.

Despite their recent assurances re garding the I-League, the AIFF had always made it clear that they wanted to make ISL, now into its fourth season, the top tier league and reduce national league to the second tier, or League One as it would be called. The plan understandably met with some early resistance; Goan clubs ­ Dempo SC, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa ­ pulled out in protest. The move, which has the blessings of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), is significant. It means the ISL is now no longer a glorified tournament, or a league only in name. Despite what the AIFF has to say , the ISL will be India's top-tier league, sooner rather than later. So where does that leave the I-League, or the likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal?

Even now, AFC simply laid out four routes for AIFF to follow, two of which, including one of maintaining status quo, were ruled out. The AIFF conveniently blamed shortage of time to run both leagues one after another like the last three years but as another club official pointed out, the AIFF were never in favour of that arrangement.


2017, July: the decline continues (Goa)

Marcus Mergulhao|Goa football on decline, players join courier firms, politics, Jul 22 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)

Three years ago, Milagres Gonsalves was a hero. His winner for Kerala against his home state Goa in the Indian Super League saw him drawing praise from even Sachin Tendulkar. But three years down the line, Milagres has moved to England, not to play football but work for a courier company .

“There is nothing left for footballers in Goa anymore. The salaries on offer are meagre and nothing like what it used to be in the past,“ Milagres told TOI over phone.

Milagres isn't the only one to move abroad after hanging up his boots. Many promising footbal lers from the state have discarded their jerseys for a workman's clothes, some even trying their hand at local panchayat elections held here last month in the hope of pursuing an alternative profession.And those who have decided to fight it out, may be forced to look elsewhere if they don't get picked up at the ISL's domestic player draft in Mumbai on Sunday .

The tiniest state of the country, which was equally well known for its football as it was for its sun and sand, today hardly boasts of any of its legendary talent. From the six clubs that Goa had in the ILeague, India's premier football tournament, there is just one club representing the state at the national level. And with the decline of football--the state sport--the demand for players has come down too. From the heydays of Goan football when Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence, Samir Naik and Mahesh Gawli took home close to Rs 1 crore every year, to day most players have to settle for Rs 6 lakh.

Not too long ago, football was the most thriving industry in the state, rivalled only by mining and tourism. In 2012, the year Dempo SC became I-League champions for a record fifth time, the club spent approximately Rs 12 crore on player salaries alone, while rival clubs like Salgaocar FC, Churchill Brothers SC and Sporting Clube de Goa were not too far behind.

FOOTBALL.png

Outstation players had club coaches' numbers on speed dial and agents pestered club officials with CVs of top players from across the globe. Everyone wanted to come to Goa to make a living out of football and Goans themselves were reaping the benefits.

“You have to hold the AIFF responsible for all this. Had three top Goan clubs not opted out (last year) because of faulty AIFF policies, Goan footballers would have not faced any problems,“ said Goa Football Association president Elvis Gomes.

“We have decided to strengthen the Goa Pro League this season. Hopefully , the addition of a new team in the league will provide opportunities to several more footballers and a longer league would mean they will all have annual contracts. The money may not be as good as in the past, but I am sure they will all be able to earn decently ,“ said Gomes.

But Milagres isn't impressed.“I was in Goa last month and inquired with the clubs if there was an opening. The clubs need players but they are offering a pittance,“ he said, hoping the golden days of Goan football won't remain just in history books.

2017, June: ISL gets AFC berth, I-League on brink

Marcus Mergulhao, ISL gets AFC berth, I-League on brink, June 11, 2017: The Times of India 

Bengaluru, Possibly Tatas, To Sign Up; AIFF Moots Super Cup Format

The Indian Super League (ISL) has successfully managed to wean away Bengaluru FC from the I-League, reducing India's premier football competition to a secondary event much before anyone had predicted. Bengaluru FC will be among the two new ISL teams ­ the other likely to be Tatas -which will be announced in the next 48 hours.

The Federation Cup champions have made it clear that they want to be part of a league that guarantees them a place in continental competitions ­ AFC Cup ­ and with AIFF now deciding to play both leagues simultaneously for six months, one AFC Cup slot will be handed over to the ISL champions.

“We have submitted our bid which means we want to play in the ISL. Our biggest concern has also been taken care of,“ said Bengaluru FC chief technical officer Mandar Tamhane, referring to the AFC Cup slot they had been seeking. Meanwhile, in Delhi, the meeting between I-League clubs and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) remained inconclusive as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal sought more time to decide. Both clubs are expected to revert to the AIFF on Tuesday.

The AIFF, however, proposed a Super Cup to be played immediately after the conclusion of the two leagues with the winner qualifying for the AFC Champions League play-off and runner-up earning an AFC Cup slot. The Super Cup will be a contest between the four top teams each from both leagues.

Despite their recent assurances re garding the I-League, the AIFF had always made it clear that they wanted to make ISL, now into its fourth season, the top tier league and reduce national league to the second tier, or League One as it would be called. The plan understandably met with some early resistance; Goan clubs ­ Dempo SC, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa ­ pulled out in protest. The move, which has the blessings of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), is significant. It means the ISL is now no longer a glorified tournament, or a league only in name. Despite what the AIFF has to say , the ISL will be India's top-tier league, sooner rather than later. So where does that leave the I-League, or the likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal?

Even now, AFC simply laid out four routes for AIFF to follow, two of which, including one of maintaining status quo, were ruled out. The AIFF conveniently blamed shortage of time to run both leagues one after another like the last three years but as another club official pointed out, the AIFF were never in favour of that arrangement.

2017, October: Indian Team for U-17 World Cup

The Times of India, Oct 5, 2017 

All eyes will be on the hosts as they try to negotiate through Group A against the quality opposition of Ghana, Colombia and the US. Here's a chance to get acquainted with our local heroes...

GOALKEEPERS

DHEERAJ SINGH

The first name on Luis Norton de Matos's team-sheet, Dheeraj Singh, is probably the most experienced player in the side with 42 international caps. He has been with the national team since 2013 and won the U-16 SAFF Championship that year. During the AFC U-16 Championship last year, Dheeraj kept India in the hunt by saving two penalties in as many matches and gave a wonderful account of himself when India held Chile 1-1 during the four nation tournament in Mexico. Born in Moirang in Manipur, Dheeraj had a fascination for badminton before he fell in love with football.

PRABHSUKHAN GILL

He could have so easily been the defender in this side. During the days of Nicolai Adam, Prabhsukhan was often tried as central defender and even made it to the substitute's bench for two international tournaments. He is settled now, though, as goalkeeper and should be playing at least one of the three group matches. A Punjabi boy, Gill took his lessons at the Chandigarh Football Academy and has clawed his way back into the team after being relegated to the reserves.

SUNNY DHALIWAL

There is a reason why Sunny Dhaliwal stands out in this Indian side. Nobody is quite as tall as him. The Canada-born goalkeeper is a late entrant in this team and probably worked the hardest to get here. Born to Indian parents, Sunny didn't have an Indian passport that would help him make the cut but with generous help from SAI, sports ministry and the AIFF, the Toronto FC Academy graduate could realise his dream. The AIFF got to know of this giant of a goalkeeper after his father uploaded a video on the overseas scouting portal.

DEFENDERS

BORIS SINGH

He was an athlete during his early school days -a sprinter, and it shows. When former coach Nicolai Adam conducted a lactic acid and endurance test in Germany, Boris left everyone else behind. The Manipur lad is inarguably India's fastest player with a ball at his feet.The right-back is suspended for the opening match but when he joins the team, India will definitely have a spring in their step.

JITENDRA SINGH

Quite unusual for a `short' player like him, Jitendra Singh's preferred position is central defender. The Bengal lad is not among the `giants' in the team but his positioning and football sense makes him the firstchoice player to partner Anwar Ali in defence. Son of a watchman, Jitu had to choose between cricket and football and he opted for the former.Nobody has regretted that decision.At the U-17 World Cup, despite the lack of height, Jitu is expected to measure up to the challenge.

ANWAR ALI

Born in the small town of Adampur, Punjab, Anwar is among the last players to join the squad but the only certainty to be in the starting eleven.A strapping central defender, Anwar started as a left-back with the Indian team but was dropped even before Nicolai Adam could have a look at him. His lack of consistency was held against him, and so was his height.Incredibly, Anwar is now among the tallest in the team and forced his way alongside those lads from Minerva who defeated India U-17 1-0.

SANJEEV STALIN

The quintessential modern full-back, Sanjeev Stalin attracted attention when he curled a free-kick straight into the top corner against UAE in the AFC U-16 championship last year. Since then, he has proved several times that he remains India's chief set-piece taker. The left-back from Bengaluru looks like a kid but plays like a seasoned professional.When the U-17 World Cup concludes and his contract with the AIFF ends, there will be a queue outside his residence for his signature.

HENDRY ANTONAY

You can call the Bengaluru lad the luckiest player in the team. He was first handpicked from among hundreds of players who turned up for trials in Mumbai but after more than a year with the team, coach Nicolai Adam thought the rightback was surplus to requirements.He was asked to pack his bags for home. But in a stunning development, Nicolai himself had to pack his bags. Hendry's abilities were never in question and the new coach took a liking to him.

NAMIT DESHPANDE

He is on the cusp of history. If coach Luis Norton de Matos sticks to his line-ups in international friendlies, Namit Deshpande should be the first NRI to represent India at the World Cup. It's been quite a journey. The Deshpandes ­ Sandeep and Radhika, architects both ­ moved from Dadar to New Jersey in 2006, taking sixyear-old Namit along. Now a strapping lad of 17, the central defender first trialled with the team in Brazil and later impressed de Matos when he took over.

MIDFIELDERS

SURESH SINGH

He is India's ice-cool defensive midfielder.

Captain of the Indian team for last year's AFC U-16 Championship in Goa, Suresh gave a wonderful account of himself, most notably when he kept his cool to slot home a 97th minute penalty and tie the match against Saudi Arabia, the only Asian side to win the U-17 World Cup.

Suresh is the heart of the midfield where he will partner captain Amarjit Singh. Son of a badminton player from Manipur, Suresh didn't take to football until he was 11 and two years later he found himself being spotted by Rob Baan, India's former technical director.

AMARJIT SINGH KIYAM

The real shining light of this India U-17 team, Amarjit Singh has always led by example. On the field, you wouldn't find anyone else more hardworking than him, and off the field, he would hardly put a foot wrong.

Among the quietest player in the side, and the most disciplined, Amarjit was voted as the captain by 26 of the 27 probables. He was the only one who didn't vote for himself. A central midfielder from Manipur, Amarjit remains incredibly efficient when moving forward and tends to pick the most likely goal scoring pass.

NINTHOINGANBA MEETEI

His dynamism and determination has been there for all to see. The Manipur winger saw his father pass away after losing the battle against thyroid cancer just two months ago, but three days later, Ninthoinganba was back at work, harassing markers and cutting his way from the right.

De Matos's best bet to create an opening in the second half, Ninthoi's speed is his biggest weapon. Nobody makes as many attempts on goal as this diminutive winger.

LALENGMAWIA

Mizoram is Indian football's flavour of the season. Aizawl FC won the I-League last year and Mizoram won the Santosh Trophy a few years earlier. It would have been a tragedy if the state didn't have any representative in the Indian squad for the U-17 World Cup. It almost happened, until Lalengmawia caught the selectors's eye during a friendly against India XI. Primarily a central midfielder, Lalengmawia is equally effective on the wings.

KOMAL THATAL

Not many players boast of scoring against mighty Brazil. Komal Thatal has that honour, and what a goal it was in the BRICS Cup. The Sikkim lad picked a through on the left flank and weaved his way past three Brazilians before surprising the goalkeeper with a snapshot that whizzed past him and settled into the corner at the second post.

Preferred on the left wing, Komal can also be quite effective as a No 10 and remains India's top-scorer with nine goals. Rarely has Indian football seen a player as skilful as him at this age.

JEAKSON SINGH

Jeakson must have been frustrated when repeated efforts to break into the team came to a nought but he never let anyone know. He knew his time would come.

With his talent, it was hard to ignore this central midfielder. He went unnoticed for long, though. During the Chandigarh trials, he was left out. Watched by the coach during the U-15 I-League final, he scored with a stunning free-kick, yet never made the cut. Finally, when Minerva Punjab upstaged India U-17 in a friendly, he was the one who shone the brightest.

ABHIJIT SARKAR

Abhijit has superb control over the ball when it is at his feet and will give coach de Matos options whenever needed. It wasn't always smooth going for the Bengal lad though. Under Nicolai Adam, whose penchant for quick, direct football is well known, Abhijit didn't play enough but his versatility has now made him an indispensable part of this Indian team. He has played several roles ­ all with perfection ­ with the Indian team and is now drafted in midfield. With a blend of raw pace and remarkable dribbling skill, Abhijit can prove more than a handful.

RAHUL KANNOLY PRAVEEN

Belonging to the oldest batch of players in this team, successive coaches have always had one thing to say about Rahul Kannoly Praveen: This boy has absolutely everything. You field him as a lone striker and he delivers. He defends brilliantly too if you push him at the back and offers a creative threat as a right winger. Hailing from Thrissur, the land that gave Indian football one of its biggest stars, I M Vijayan, Rahul is the lone player from Kerala in the Indian team and can use both feet to devastating effect.

MOHAMMAD SHAHJAHAN

Played out of position and not really comfortable with the set-up, Mohammad Shahjahan even thought of giving up on football until Nicolai Adam put his misery to end by dropping him from the side. He never seemed to be in Nicolai's mould, whose preference for sturdy players was never a secret. Shahjahan, however, didn't lose heart and trained just as vigorously with Minerva Punjab FC. A chance friendly against the India U-17s brought Shahjahan back into focus.

NONGDAMBA NAOREM

He was the one who scored the only goal that helped Minerva Punjab upset India U-17 in a friendly and facilitated the entry of four players into the Indian team. He was also the one who scored India's only goal against Chile, which helped secure a 1-1 draw, perhaps India's best result in recent times. A sound passer with unerring composure even when under pressure, the Manipur youngster is comfortable on both the flanks and quite often provides the incisive touch.

FORWARDS

RAHIM ALI

The India U-17 coaching staff jokingly tell him that he is a politician; always in the right place at the right place. Rahim Ali is one of the only two recognised strikers in the team and should be shouldering a majority of the scoring responsibilities. Hailing from Barrackpore in Bengal and a product of the Mohun Bagan youth team, which he joined in 2013, Rahim was demoted to the reserves but soon fought his way to the top. Leaving his inconsistency behind, Rahim is now the most effective attacking player for de Matos.

ANIKET JADHAV

Among the 10 players handpicked by former Germany great Paul Brietner to represent India at the FC Bayern Munich Youth Cup in 2014, Aniket Jadhav has since gone from strength to strength, quite literally. Coaches have discovered that Aniket can be quite effective in the later stages of the match when opposition legs are a bit tired and the Kolhapur lad can muscle his way through. Blessed with a dominating physique and blistering pace, Aniket has an astonishing scoring record at youth level.

COACH

LUIS NORTON DE MATOS is a much loved and respected man in the U-17 India side. After Nicolai Adam was sacked in February 2016, the boys needed a father figure to support them. The 63-year-old fitted the role perfectly. Once he started to enjoy the boys' confidence, it wasn't difficult for De Matos to implement his style and philosophy.Having worked intensely with the boys for the last six months, De Matos has ensured that the likes of Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Aniket Jadhav will give a tough fight to other teams.

2017, October: India’s first WC goal

Saumyajit Basu, Oct 10 2017: The Times of India


Jeakson Thounaojam etched his name in the history books for India. The tall midfielder rose above time and space to head in India's equaliser against Colombia in the U-17 World Cup group stage match at the Capital. This was India's first goal in the football World Cup -in any age category -as Jeakson leapt to defy gravity, notions, and years of under-achievement, to head home Sanjeev Stalin's wickedly curling corner in the 82nd minute.

India had barely finished rejoicing when Juan Penaloza restored the lead with a simple finish after the Colombian midfielder had earlier given them the lead just after half time. That made it 2-1 in Colombia's favour and that is the way it stayed.

2017, October: U-17 WC 2017 is most attended in event's history

FIFA U-17 WC in India becomes most attended in event's history, October 29, 2017: The Times of India


HIGHLIGHTS

The 17th edition of the U-17 World Cup in India became the most attended in the history of the event

The total number of spectators went past the earlier record attendance of 12,30,976 set in the first edition

With 56432 spectators turning up on Saturday, the total attendance of U-17 WC reached 12,80,459

The 17th edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India on Saturday turned out to be a milestone event as it became the most attended in the history of the tournament.

After the third-place match between Brazil and Mali, the total number of spectators who turned up at the six host venues across the country went past the earlier record attendance of 1,230,976 set in the first edition of the tournament in China in 1985.

With 56432 spectators turning up at the Salt Lake Stadium to watch the Brazil versus Mali match, the total attendance of the FIFA U-17 World Cup reached 1280459. Before this match, a mere 6949 attendance was needed to break the record.

The 2011 edition in Mexico had also attracted a total of 1,002,314 spectators, becoming the third one to have more than one million attendance.

The attendance for matches had breached the million mark in the last Round of 16 match on October 18.

In terms of the number of spectators per match, this edition is second behind the inaugural edition in China (which was 38,469) as the number of participating teams and matches were lesser at that time.

Sixteen teams competed till the 2005 edition in Peru (when the tournament was known as FIFA U-17 World Championships) before the number of participating countries was increased to 24 from the 2007 edition in South Korea. The number of matches was also increased from 32 to 52 from 2007 onwards.

Understandably, Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium has the highest attendance per match. The venue has so far logged a total of 542125 spectators from 10 games, at a staggering average of 54212 per match. The stadium has a total capacity of 66.600.

2017: Why Banglaore could not host U-17 WC matches

Biju Babu Cyriac, How Bengaluru lost the plot to host U-17 World Cup matches, October 29, 2017: The Times of India


HIGHLIGHTS

According to a senior official part of FIFA delegation that visited Bengaluru in 2014, the city lost out because it didn't have a stadium

More than four years after the KSFA AGM decided to rebuild the stadium, work is yet to start on the project


It's home to India's champion football club and passionate fans. Its pleasant weather makes it one of the favourite cities for the Indian senior team. But all these qualities were not enough for the Garden City to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

The city, which figured in the first short-list of eight cities prepared by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), lost out due to the collective failure of the Karnataka State Football Association and the government machinery which failed to find the right company to rebuild the stadium in time.

"When we ask, the officials tell us work will start so on. But nothing has happened. We missed a great chance to host the World Cup and the KSFA should take the blame," a former player said.

According to a senior official part of the FIFA delegation that visited the city in 2014, the city lost out because it didn't have a stadium. The city ticked most box es but where will you conduct the matches! Bengaluru's plan to host some matches in the tournament never moved an inch without any work on the stadium," he said. "There was no second visit from the delegation as there was no progress on the ground."

The KSFA officials said they had firmed up plans to rebuild the stadium in July 2013 even before FIFA allotted the tournament to India. But they lost the plot in the next two years. "We lost two crucial years as we waited for JSW to start work on the stadium. Finally, when we called for a tender in June 2015 it was already late," a senior football official said.

Reacting to KSFA officials allegations that JSW delayed the project asking for sub-lease of the stadium, a company official wondered how else anyone could recover the cost. "Whoever comes forward to build the stadium will ask for a sublease as that's the only way to recover the huge investment. Even Wembley Stadium is given out to concerts and dirt-cross events but after that it continues to host football," he said adding that despite KSFA's efforts, then led by AR Khaleel, the file got stuck in the urban development ministry.

"KSFA was not the final authority and we needed clearance from various government departments," the official said. KSFA officials in Kolkata Local fans may have missed out the final action but some state association officials have made use of complimentary tickets provided by AIFF to watch the matches. "A few KSFA officials have left for Kolkata to watch the final. The AIFF has provided them tickets but they have to pay for travel and accommodation," sources told STOI.

Stadium plan back to square one?

More than four years after the KSFA AGM decided to rebuild the stadium, work is yet to start on the project. "The new president NA Harris assured us in a recent meeting that we'll rebuild the stadium soon," another KSFA official said.Ozone group, which was declared by KSFA as winner of the closed bidding, is yet to announce its plans and none of its officials were available for comment. Meanwhile, Embassy Group, which lost the bidding race to Ozone, staked its claim to rebuild the stadium citing various lapses in the tender evaluation process.

December 2017: India rises to no. 96

Marcus Mergulhao, India rising, but not quite shining, December 29, 2017: The Times of India


The giant is no longer sleeping; it’s not up and running either. Despite having one of the worst rankings before Stephen Constantine returned for a second stint, successive Fifa presidents have dedicated much time and energy to Indian football. If former Fifa president Sepp Blatter gifted the “sleeping giant” U-17 World Cup, the biggest tournament to be staged in the subcontinent, current president Gianni Infantino simply followed in his predecessor’s footsteps by playing to the gallery, and a huge untapped market.

“I call India the passionate giant and not anymore the sleeping giant,” Infantino told TOI during the launch of the 2017 Fifa U-17 World Cup logo in Goa.

Probably, Infantino has a point. India is no longer a sleeping giant, and its passion for the beautiful game cannot be doubted. In Kolkata, for example, league matches can still attract crowds in thousands and the U-17 World Cup simply enhanced the city’s reputation when every available seat was taken up during the semifinal and final.

On the field, India had one of its finest years in recent times. India finished the year ranked 105 in the Fifa rankings and made history when Constantine’s boys were ranked 96, the first time they broke into the top-100 in 21 years.

They also remained unbeaten in 2017 and are currently on a record 13-match unbeaten streak. You might want to question the quality of opposition, or even the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) pick and choose policy; a scheduled friendly against relatively stronger Palestine was even cancelled, but there is no denying India is winning matches like never before. A place in the 2019 Asian Cup was achieved without breaking sweat, never mind the terrible losses in the World Cup qualifiers against the likes of Iran, Turkmenistan, Oman and tiny Guam.

Indian football, for the first time, also made it to the front pages of newspapers this year. The U-17 World Cup staged at home for the first time meant everyone was talking about the beautiful game. For a change, it wasn’t about the exploits of European powerhouses who invade our television sets every weekend. Here was a group of 17-year-olds, or even less, who made everyone sit up and take notice.

India, officially the lowest-ranked team in the competition, finished at the bottom of its group without a point, losing against USA (0-3), Colombia (1-2) and Ghana (0-4). But, like coach Luis Norton de Matos asked, “How can you expect to compete with the world’s best after just two years of preparations?”

He later said: “These U-17 teams are so good that they can give any league side a run for their money.”

Which league the Portuguese coach was referring to remains unclear. Not his fault. Indian football finds itself in a strange situation; it’s the only country that has two leagues. Officially the ILeague is India’s premier league, but if you looked at the scheduling – matches kick off at 2pm – and the attendances – near empty stands – this one looks like anything but the top league. The Indian Super League (ISL) in sharp contrast is getting all the attention, not just from the broadcasters and marketing partners but also parents AIFF.

No wonder, nobody is left in doubt where AIFF’s priorities lie.

The ISL’s expansion to 10 teams and the inclusion of former I-League champions Bengaluru FC has given the beleaguered league some breathing space. The blessings from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have helped as well, and it’s only a matter of time before ISL officially climbs to the top of the chart. So where does that leave Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, two of India’s biggest clubs? Or even Aizawl FC, whose fairytale I-League triumph reinforced the belief that money alone cannot buy success in football.

Aizawl proved passion can move mountains. It is the same passion that impressed Infantino. But as another year dawns, and with it another season, it looks increasingly likely that passionate fans of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Aizawl FC, will have to wait a while before they get to join the big league.

2018

AFC U-16 Championship

Qualify for the quarterfinals for first time in 16 years

India U-16 one win away from WC, September 28, 2018: The Times of India


The only celebration you could see was on the sidelines as coach Bibiano Fernandes hugged his assistant, Kanan Priolkar.

On the field, India’s U-16 players were left with hardly any energy as they held Indonesia goalless and qualified for the quarterfinals of the AFC U-16 Championship for the first time in 16 years in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Both teams needed only a draw to qualify from group C but till the closing stages of the match India were on the edge as Indonesia pushed forward for the winner. In the three minutes of added time itself, there were three cornerkicks, but the defence measured up to the challenge.

India finished their group engagements with five points from three matches, the same as Indonesia, but will be placed second due to an inferior goal difference. In all certainties, they will face South Korea – leading group D with six points -- on Monday for a place at next year’s Fifa U-17 World Cup in Peru.

India’s qualification from a tough group is appreciable. In three matches, India have not conceded a goal, although with two goalless draws against Iran and Indonesia, the only goal India scored was a late penalty against Vietnam. Iran, finalists in 2016, were knocked out despite a 5-0 demolition of Vietnam in the concluding league clash.

Backed by their partisan fans, Indonesia enjoyed the upperhand in the initial stages and had a look at the goal in the second minute when David Maulana found space at the top of the box, only for the Indonesian captain to fire wide.

Ridge D’Mello and Vikram Partap combined to create an opening a few minutes later but the captain couldn’t keep his header on target. Indonesia continued with their high-pressing game as they attacked India from all fronts but the young Blue Tigers stayed sturdy at the back.

After the change of ends, India took charge in the first 15 minutes, and had they been sharp enough in front of goal, could have taken the lead. The first was an attempt from Vikram that missed the target narrowly and another freekick from Bahadur Rana forced a save from goalkeeper Ernando.

With the clock ticking away, Indonesia pushed more players forward but the defence led by Shabas Ahammed ensured India got the point that took them to the lasteight stage. “This is a special moment for each and every one back home. The credit goes to all my staff, the grassroots coaches who tutored these kids at a young age, and my players for putting in the hard work,” said coach Fernandes.

India holds Iran

Valiant India hold Iran, September 25, 2018: The Times of India


Goalkeeper Neeraj Kumar Stands Out In Heroic Show

Goalkeeper Niraj Kumar was the hero with a string of saves, including a late penalty, as India held mighty Iran goalless in the AFC U-16 Championship in Kuala Lumpur.

When the two teams last met at the same stage, in Goa in 2016, Iran demolished the hosts 3-0 and later made it to the final, losing to archrivals Iraq. This, however, is a different side and proved their might with a disciplined performance as the team coached by Bibiano Fernandes accumulated four points from their first two matches.

India next play group leaders Indonesia, also with four points, and will qualify for the all-important quarterfinals with a draw.

“I feel my team is getting better in terms of playing together and creating more chances at the end,” said coach Bibiano, reflecting on India’s first positive result against Iran since 1984. After a solitary goal win over Vietnam in the opening game, it was important for India not to lose momentum. Iran had lost 0-2 against Indonesia and were keen to make amends. They attacked right at the start but found Niraj a hard nut to crack. Niraj was called isnto action early in the game when he dived fulllength to deny Yasin Salmani.

India lose QF, fail to qualify for U-17 WC

Marcus Mergulhao, India lose QF, fail to qualify for U-17 WC, The Times of India

As the referee blew the final whistle, the Indian contingent simply couldn’t hide their disappointment. Coach Bibiano Fernandes stood motionless on the sidelines, while the players slumped to the ground.

This was a herculean effort from India but even that was not enough as South Korea were more resilient in their 1-0 victory in the AFC U-16

Championship quarterfinals at the MBPJ Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

The goal that India conceded was their first in four matches. They maintained a clean slate in three group games against higher-ranked teams, then frustrated South Korea for the first 45 minutes, but the Indian defence finally succumbed to a continuous onslaught after a combined 338 minutes. It was South Korean super-sub Jeong Sang-bin who did the damage in the 68th minute, scoring a goal that cost India a place at next year’s Fifa U-17 World Cup in Peru.

Just like Japan, Australia and Tajikistan, who won their quarterfinal battles, South Korea also secured an automatic berth at the U-17 World Cup. India had come close when nobody gave them a chance.

“Though we are out of the competition, I’m really proud of my boys. We will be leaving this tournament but we showed our passion. In the second half, we played to our strength, which is pressing and created a problem for them. It’s always difficult (playing defensive), knowing the quality of our rivals,” said coach Bibiano.

South Korea had gone into this game as clear favourites. They had the most impressive record in the group stages, scoring 12 in three games and keeping a clean slate. India, however, also had a solid defensive record and they showed great defensive discipline to shut out Korea in the opening half.

It wasn’t easy though. Without regular centre-back Bikash Yumnam, who was suspended with a double booking, Bibiano had to slot Harpreet Singh at the back, and the defence still measured up to the challenge. Right from kick off, Kim Ryun-seong and Choi Min-seo were becoming increasingly difficult to handle for India’s defenders.

AFC U-16 Women's Championship

U-16 girls lose to hosts Mongolia

U-16 girls lose to hosts Mongolia, September 21, 2018: The Times of India


Ulaan Baatar: Battling extremely cold weather, the Indian team went down fighting 1-2 to hosts Mongolia in the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Qualifiers here. Following the result, India relinquished pole position in group B to Laos, who are three points ahead, having played the same number of matches.

Asian Cup: India’s 12-match unbeaten run

India’s 12-match unbeaten run ends. March 28, 2018: The Times of India


The Indian football team’s 12-match unbeaten run ended as it lost 1-2 to an attacking Kyrgyzstan in an inconequential final group game of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign, here today. Anton Zemlianukhin opened the scoring for the hosts as early as the second minute and Mirlan Murzaev doubled the lead with his 72-nd minute strike.

Jeje Lalpekhlua pulled one back for the visiting side by finding the back of the net in the 88th minute.

India, who have already secured qualification to next year’s continental showpiece, felt the absence of their key players, especially Sunil Chhetri. Playing in place of Chhetri, striker Balwant Singh was denied a goal twice in the space of 11 minutes.

Rowlin Borges’ free-kick came off the crossbar and fell to the Mumbai City striker who tapped it into the net but the flag had already been raised for offside. Then, he raced past his marker into the free space behind the home defence and slotted past Matiash but the referee had by then blown his whistle for a foul, much to Balwant’s dismay. Kyrgyzstan were on the offensive from the word go as they looked for scoring opportunities and pressed India hard. The margin of defeat could have been bigger, had it not been for India captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s showings at the post.

Kyrgyzstan succeeded right at the start of the game as Zemlianukhin struck, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Indian Super League

Chennaiyin beat Bengaluru

Maxin Mathew, Chennaiyin conquer fortress Bengaluru, March 18, 2018: The Times of India


Visitors Storm To Second Title After Absorbing 3-2 Win Over Favourites

Bengaluru FC were denied their date with history by John Gregory and his resilient band of warriors as Chennaiyin FC sealed a 3-2 win to secure their second Indian Super League title in four years at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Saturday.

Brazilian Mailson Alves — whose early gaffe helped Sunil Chhetri hand the hosts the advantage — came back in style to score a brilliant double and compatriot Raphael Augusto’s inch-perfect finish in the second half ended Bengaluru’s 15-match unbeaten run across all competitions in front of their 25,000-odd fans at their ‘Fortress’. It was a cold, brutal jolt.

Both of Alves’ goals were an exquisite display of one of Chennaiyin’s biggest strengths this season — set-pieces. Gregory, on match eve, had predicted the game would be decided on set-pieces and his boys stayed true to his words.

Nine minutes into the game, however, Chennaiyin were reeling. Bengaluru linchpin Miku had set Udanta Singh free on the right and the crafty winger made room to cross the ball into the box.

His effort took a deflection of Alves’ foot but still made its way across the face of the goal to Chhetri at the far post, who had all the time in the world to bend and plant his header into the back of the Chennaiyin nets.

Chennaiyin pushed with urgency along the wings and Alves got his redemption in the 17th minute. The visitors, who enjoy the highest number of successful set-piece conversions in the league, unleashed yet another classic — Alves leaping high to guide Gregory Nelson’s swinging corner off the Bengaluru upright for the equalizer.

Bengaluru, playing a three-man defence to make up for suspended left-back Subhasish Bose, struggled to breach Chennai’s compact and effective midfield marshalled by Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit SIngh. Dimas Delgado was briefly successful when a haphazard Chennaiyin clearance fell perfectly for him, but his goal-bound half volley was headed off the line by Spaniard Inigo Calderon.

But at the stroke of half-time, Chennaiyin edged ahead from another Nelson-Alves masterpiece — the Dutchman whipping in a swinging corner and Alves, yet again, rising above his markers for his second header past goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Bengaluru began the second half with gusto but Chennaiyin clearly had the measure of their neighbours. Udanta briefly had the crowd in raptures but his 52nd minute conversion was ruled offside. As the hosts pushed, Chennaiyin struck the death blow.

Jeje Lalpekhlua broke through the Bengaluru offside trap on Nelson’s excellent through ball and the India striker turned past defenders John Johnson and Juanan Gonzales to set up Augusto. The Brazilian, in the finest of attempts, curled the ball around Juanan and past Gurpreet into the far bottom corner in the 67th minute. Known for their fightback, Bengaluru battled ahead, with Chhetri and Udanta coming agonizingly close to bringing the hosts back into the game. Miku converted Udanta’s 90th minute cross to raise hopes of a comeback win. But as chants of ‘we can do it’ reverberated around the Kanteerava, Chennaiyin held their composure to eke out a memorable victory.

Result: Bengaluru FC 2 (Sunil Chhetri 9, Miku 90) lost to Chennaiyin FC 3 (Mailson Alves 17, 45, Raphael Augusto 67).

ISL 4: statistics

Indian Super League 4- statistics
From: March 18, 2018: The Times of India


See graphic:

Indian Super League 4- statistics

The stars of ISL 4

March 18, 2018: The Times of India

Indian Super League 4, prominent players
From: March 18, 2018: The Times of India

See graphic:

Indian Super League 4, prominent players

India vs. China: 0-0; first (friendly) match in 21 years

India Play Out 0-0 Draw With Lippi’s Team In ‘Earth Derby’, October 14, 2018: The Times of India


A gritty India thwarted a wave of Chinese onslaughts to play out a remarkable goal-less draw in an international football friendly played for the first time after 21 years between the two countries. China clearly dominated the proceedings with several chances coming their way but they failed to get a goal.

The match has been dubbed ‘The Earth Derby’ as it features nations that are home to a third of the world’s population.

Chinese forwards’ goal drought continued while the Indians, especially the back-four of captain Sandesh Jhingan, Narayan Das, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose, played their hearts out to hold their nerves till the end.

The home side had at least three clear chances with two being denied by the woodwork while their star striker Gao Lin failed to find the target several times. Custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood like a rock in front of the Indian goal as he denied the home side at least on four occasions.

It was a remarkable achievement for India as they have drawn against a continental top side like China in their own den. India were playing on Chinese soil for the first time and there were periods in the match, though few and far between, when the visitors threatened on the counters.

India had two very good chances on either side of the breather, one from Pritam Kotal and another from substitute Farukh Choudhary, and a couple of half chances. The draw is also expected to take India higher in the Fifa rankings. They are now placed 97th while China are in 76th spot.

On the other hand, China, coached by 2006 World Cup winning Italian coach Marcello Lippi, continued their recent struggle as they failed to score in three matches on the trot. China had lost to an inexperienced Qatar team 0-1 last month before playing out a 0-0 draw against Bahrain. The game in Suzhou, near Shanghai, was the first match between the two Asian giants’ senior sides in 21 years. India had not beaten China in their last 17 attempts.

India head coach Stephen Constantine had predicted an attacking-minded Chinese team and that precisely turned out as the home side made a wave of attacks in the first session. But the visitors did not give an inch to the Chinese attackers who has played more than 100 international matches, for most part while goalie Gurpreet made a few fine saves.

India wins Intercontinental Cup

Anil Dias, Intercontinental Cup: Chhetri Double Gives India 2-0 Win, Title, June 11, 2018: The Times of India


Showmanship in Indian football has a name – Sunil Chhetri. Off the field, he appeals to fans to “come to the stadium and abuse us on our faces”, and then on the field, he puts on one of the most magnificent shows. He did it during his 100th match against Kenya, and on Sunday, in the final of Intercontinental Cup against the same opponents at the Mumbai Football Arena, he did the same.

Riding on Chhetri’s brace, India beat their African opponents 2-0 to win the second edition of the tournament.

Chhetri’s who scored seven goals in four matches in the tournament, took just eight minutes to break the deadlock. And the goal was a drawing-room masterclass. The hosts were awarded a freekick at the edge of the Kenyan box and youngster Anirudh Thapa stepped up to take it. Chhetri casually strolled offside and just as the kick was about to be taken, darted into onside posotion to receive the low pass and slot it into the net as the Kenyan defence, along with their goalkeeper, looked completely clueless.

Two minutes later the skipper missed a chance to double when he had a clear run with just the goalkeeper to beat. He chose to square the ball, but to his dismay, there was nobody running for it. With the goalkeeper off his line, Chhetri could've just lobbed it over, like he's done countless times, but he chose to be selfless, at the worst time possible though.

He made up for that mistake in the 29th minute with superb left-footed strike. The Bengaluru FC striker anticipated a long ball from defender Anas Edathodika. While on the run, he brought it down with his chest and placed it in the right bottom corner, probably the only place the goalkeeper could be beaten. And he did it with his weaker foot!

He seldom celebrates after scoring, but in front of the screaming fans that filled the stadium to capacity, he just couldn’t control himself, encouraging the fans to cheer even louder. After all, it’s Chhetri that the fans had come to see.

While Kenya were excellent in midfield, their strikers lacked gumption and finesse upfront. They didn’t really trouble the defence, though they did try quite a few long-range shots that troubled goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu but didn’t scare him.

This tournament was a preparation for the all-important AFC Asian Cup in January next year where India are drawn with hosts UAE, Bahrain and Thailand. And if the final is anything to go by, India need to work on their midfield. Against a second-string Kenya, they were content with playing long balls and running down the flanks but the midfield failed to keep possession or dictate play, something which will not work against the best of Asia.

For now though, they can savour this victory.

South Asian Football Federation Cup

Indians lose to Maldives

Lacklustre Indians lose to Maldives, September 16, 2018: The Times of India


Suffer 2-1 Defeat In SAFF Final

Dhaka, Sep 15 (PTI) Poor finishing and scrappy defending put paid to India's quest for an eighth South Asian Football Federation Cup title as it suffered a 1-2 defeat against Maldives in the summit clash here on Saturday. India, the defending champions, largely dominated the match with better ball possession and more shots at the opposition goal but the Maldives team scored from the few chances it got to lift the winners' trophy for the second time. Maldives had also won the title in 2008 edition which it co-hosted.

Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain and Ali Fasir scored in the 19th and 66th minutes respectively for Maldives against the run of play. Sumeet Passi (90+2 minute) pulled one back for India in the second minute of the injury time at the Bangabandhu Stadium.

India, fielding an Under-23 side except for one player, was chasing its eight triumph in 12 editions and its third back-to-back title. But its forwards failed to put the ball on target on several occasions while the defenders lacked coordination. India had beaten Maldives 2-0 in the group stage.

The Stephan Constantine-coached India probably played the worst match of the tournament after making emphatic wins in the group stage and the semifinal.

India were going into the summit clash with a lot of confidence after an all-win record and having conceded just one goal in their earlier three matches and was soon dominating the proceedings.

In the fifth minute, Nikhil Poojary delivered a looping ball to Salam Ranjan Singh who, however, mistimed his header to waste the chance.

It was, however, Maldives who took the lead in the 19th minute with Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain's right footed shot from the centre of the box past Indian goalkeeper Vishal Kaith from an assist by Hassan Naiz. It was the first time, India was trailing in the tournament. On the backfoot despite having most of the possession, India pressed hard for the equaliser but failed to get one in the first half. In the 30th minute, Farukh Choudhary lost his balance and mistimed his shot from a close range as India missed the closest chance to find the equaliser.

U-16

India U-16 stun Cameroon 2-1

August 23, 2018: The Times of India


India U-16 football team continued with their giant-killing ways as they upset Cameroon 2-1 in a friendly in Istanbul on Wednesday. India were originally scheduled to play Turkey in the Istanbul Cup but the hosts opted out after realising that the final game clashed with Eid celebrations. India then hurriedly approached Cameroon – who were preparing their upcoming Afcon U-17 competition – and the friendly turned out to be a huge morale booster for India ahead of next month’s AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia.

India were boosted by a first minute goal from Ridge Melvin, and when Rohit Danu, the team’s most prolific scorer, made it 2-0 inside the first 20 minutes, there was no stopping.

WAFF championship, Jordan

U-16: India scores goal against Japan

August 5, 2018: The Times of India


India lost 1-2 against Japan in a 5th WAFF U-16 Championship match in their first-ever meeting between the two countries at this level but head coach Bibiano Fernandes said the “encouraging” performance will go a long way in boosting the confidence of his players. India took the lead in the 26th minute through Vikram Pratap Singh when he converted from the spot but Japan came back in the second half to pump in two goals, one each from Kuraba Kondo (57th) and Shoji Toyama (64th).

India beats Argentina, Iraq

India colts stun Argentina, Iraq in football, August 7, 2018: The Times of India


In a huge boost for football in the country, Indian junior teams notched up stunning victories against much fancied opponents, with the under-20 team beating Argentina 2-1 at the COTIF Cup in Spain, and the under-16 colts overcoming Iraq 1-0 at the WAFF championship in Jordan.

The winning goal against Argentina — a full strength national U-20 team coached by 2006 World Cupper Lionel Scaloni with the legendary Pablo Aimar as technical director — scored by Anwar Ali off a freekick, was arguably the goal of the tournament.


Yemen defeated 3-0

August 8, 2018: The Times of India


INDIA U-16 BOYS BLANK YEMEN

India’s U-16 team maintained their winning streak, defeating Yemen 3-0 in the five-nation WAFF U-16 football championship in Amman, Jordan on Wednesday. Harpreet Singh headed the first one in the 37th minute, and then two goals in two minutes – by Ridge Demello and Rohit Danu – immediately after half time took the issue beyond Yemen’s reach. India finished their engagement in the tournament winning three matches and losing a close one (1-2) to Japan.

Head coach Bibiano Fernandes lauded the boys for their “fantastic display.” “They came up with a superlative performance. The tournament has helped us gauge where we stand and we go back much richer in experience,” he said.

2019

Asian Cup

The Indian team

Marcus Mergulhao, January 5, 2019: The Times of India


GOALKEEPERS

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Club: Bengaluru FC; Age: 26; India Caps: 26 The first name on Stephen Constantine’s team sheet, Gurpreet has been India’s number one choice for a while and he has proved himself in good measure.


Amrinder Singh

Club: Mumbai City FC; Age: 25; India Caps: 2 The Mumbai City FC goalkeeper is among the best in the country but may have to settle for a place on the bench with Gurpreet in fine form.


Vishal Kaith

Club: FC Pune City; Age: 22; India Caps: 4 A new kid on the block, Vishal Kaith is an exciting prospect for India who rose through the ranks with some good performances for FC Pune City.


DEFENDERS

Sandesh Jhingan

Club: Kerala Blasters; Age: 25; India Caps: 27 His club form has been patchy for Kerala Blasters but when Sandesh pulls on the India jersey, he measures up to the challenge.


Anas Edathodika

Club: Kerala Blasters; Age: 31; India Caps: 10 Anas Edathodika’s composure at the back will be crucial for India as he partners Sandesh Jhingan and attempts to shut out opposition.


Narayan Das

Club: Delhi Dynamos FC; Age: 25; India Caps: 28 There are not too many left-footed defenders of quality in Indian football and Narayan, not surprisingly, remains an automatic choice for the left-back position.


Pritam Kotal

Club: ATK; Age: 25; India Caps: 28 Pritam will be Constantine’s go to man in defence. Naturally suited for the right-back position, Pritam can fill in the void on the left as well.


Sarthak Golui

Club: FC Pune City; Age: 21; India Caps: 3 A tenacious fullback, Sarthak Golui made a name for himself at FC Pune City with some hard work down the flank.


Salam Ranjan Singh

Club: East Bengal; Age: 23; India Caps: 10 The only player from the I-League to have been picked by the coach for the Asian Cup, Salam’s performances with East Bengal were hard to ignore. He was excellent for India at the back against Jordan.


Subhasish Bose

Club: Mumbai City FC; Age: 23; India Caps: 9 Subhasish Bose can play in multiple defensive positions and provides Constantine with interesting options at the back.


MIDFIELDERS

Udanta Singh

Club: Bengaluru FC; Age: 22; India Caps: 13 Unbeatable in the short burst of speed, Udanta Singh can leave his markers gasping for breath on the flank.


Rowllin Borges

Club: NorthEast United FC; Age: 26; India Caps: 25 After an indifferent start to life in the ISL, Rowllin Borges has rediscovered the form that made him Constantine’s favourite.


Anirudh Thapa

Club: Chennaiyin; Age: 20; India Caps: 10 His passing range makes him a trump card in a double pivot. For India, he has also shown that he can play further forward as an attacking midfielder when required.


Vinit Rai

Club: Delhi Dynamos; Age: 21; India Caps: 6 The Assam-born midfielder is a creative playmaker known for his speed and accuracy of the pass.


Halicharan Narzary

Club: Kerala Blasters; Age: 24; India Caps: 21 Stephen Constantine handed him his

India debut in 2015 and since then has managed to hold on to his spot in the team. A fleetfooted forward, Halicharan is a willing runner who likes to operate from the flanks.


Ashique Kuruniyan

Club: FC Pune City; Age: 22; India Caps: 8 A midfielder of grit and grace, Ashique Kuruniyan is making heads turn in the ISL. His team may have been struggling but he remains the sole bright spot for FC Pune City.


Germanpreet Singh

Club: Chennaiyin FC; Age: 22; India Caps: 3 Always up for hard work in midfield, Germanpreet Singh combines ball skills with a take-no-prisoners manhandling of the field. The TFA graduate was an integral part of Chennaiyin FC who won the ISL trophy last season.


Jackichand Singh

Club: FC Goa; Age: 26; India Caps: 16 On his day, Jackichand Singh can singularly be the differencemaker for his side. Capable of deft passes and defense-splitting runs, he was one of the key figures behind Royal Wahingdoh’s dream run in the I-League and is now propelling FC Goa.


Pronay Halder

Club: ATK; Age: 25; India Caps: 11 Pronay Halder has 11 caps for the country but already looks like a veteran in his defensive midfield position, which he has now made his own. A catalyst for team action, constantly roaming the pitch and dictating the tempo, he will have an important role to play in UAE.


FORWARDS

Sunil Chhetri

Club: Bengaluru FC; Age: 34; India Caps: 104 A pure attacking force, Sunil Chhetri is the all-time leading scorer for the Indian team and is regarded as the best player of his generation. No arguments about that.


Jeje Lalpekhlua

Club: Chennaiyin FC; Age: 27; India Caps: 52 He may not be the fastest, not the prettiest player on the pitch either, but the Mizo Sniper can get you the goals.


Sumeet Passi

Club: Jamshedpur FC; Age: 24; India Caps: 6 Passi is hardworking and his proficiency at hold-up play, renders him a promising prospect.


Balwant Singh

Club: ATK; Age: 32; India Caps: 9 An explosive striker, Balwant can trouble the most defences with his speed and power.


COACH

Stephen Constantine

Constantine has taken India from 173 in March 2015 to inside the top-100. The coach is guiding a team which is high on confidence after draws with Oman and China.

I- League

Chennai City FC wins

Shilarze Saharoy, March 10, 2019: The Times of India


But With I-League Set To Lose Its Top Status, Club Faces ‘Relegation’

When referee Santosh Kumar blew the final whistle and their trademark Lungi Dance set the tone for the celebrations, Chennai City FC was completing another remarkable underdog story that has made the I-League such a rivetting affair over the last few seasons.

To think, it was only three years ago that Tamil Nadu got its first I- League team, and now Chennai was realising a dream beating Minerva FC 3-1 for the title on the final day. But there’s a bittersweet twist to it all that just doesn’t go away. CCFC’s title triumph doesn’t mean the Coimbatore-based club will be part of the premier division of Indian football in the next season.

With the All India Football Federation (AIFF) planning a selective merger of the I-League and the Indian Super League, Saturday’s winners may not find a place in the toptier. “East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will be part of the top tier of the big league and there may not be promotion or relegation for the first couple of seasons,” I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said on Friday. It will effectively mean that the new champions will have to fight it out in the second division with nothing much to look forward to. But coach Akbar Nawas hopes they will find a place in the unified league. “It will be good to have one league with 20 teams. It will mean more games for national players. FIFA stipulates that a national player should play at least 45-50 matches but Indians just get a maximum of 28 games,” Nawas told TOI.

For now though, the team is looking to celebrate. While the 5000-odd gathered at the ground on Saturday enjoyed every moment of the team’s success, the local players broke into a celebratory dance the moment the game got over. The four Spaniards — Pedro Manzi, Roberto Eslava, Sandro Rodriguez and Nestor Gordillo — who played crucial roles in CCFC’s success, brought out Canary Island flags and danced to the beat.

Gourav Bora, the 22-year-old defender who scored two goals on Saturday, acknowledged the role that Nawas played in turning around the team, which was languishing at the eighth position last season. “It is the coach who gave us the belief today even when we trailed 0-1 at half-time. He asked us to forget about other results and focus on creating opportunities. In the end, we could do that,” Bora, the hero of the match, said.

Raman Vijayan, a former star striker from Tamil Nadu, hopes that CCFC’s triumph will be a gamechanger for football in the state. “It’s not that we don’t have clubs here, but for years there was nothing to look forward to. Chennaiyin FC’s Indian Super League triumph restarted the club culture but it’s not easy to get an ISL contract. On the other hand, ILeague is all inclusive. The youth realised the first step to make a mark is the I-League and CCFC’s success has made an impact among the youth,” Raman told TOI.

ISL: Bengaluru FC beats FC Goa

Rohan Alvares, BFC Champions After Extra-Time Winner Breaks Goan Hearts, March 18, 2019: The Times of India


BHEKE SETTLES THE ISSUE

Rahul Bheke was the toast of the Bengaluru FC fans and the scourge of FC Goa’s ever increasing support as the defender leaped highest deep into extra time to head the Blues to their maiden Indian Super League title.

This was just the second final in the ISL’s short history where 90 minutes failed to decide a winner. And just as it seemed like it would follow the path of the season three showdown between ATK and Kerala Blasters which the former won on penalties, Bheke delivered the blow that would crush Goan hearts here at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.

Reduced to 10 men at the end of the first period of extra time after Goa defender Ahmed Jahouh was sent off for a petulant kick at Bengaluru striker Miku, perhaps the void left by the Moroccan’s absence showed with just four minutes remaining for the match to enter penalties. Bheke was totally unmarked as he ran and rose to meet Dimas Delgado’s corner. Goa goalkeeper Naveen Kumar could only get his fingertips on the Bengaluru defender’s looping header which brushed against the post before falling into the top corner. Joy erupted in the Bengaluru section, total silence among anyone clad in the vibrant orange colour of Goa — and there were a good number of them.

At the full-time whistle, you could easily understand the elation written all over Delgado’s face. The Spaniard was forced to leave last season’s final against Chennaiyin at half time due to an injury. He wouldn’t get his hands on the trophy either as Bengaluru fell to a 3-2 loss. He could not have hoped any sweeter retribution than providing the assist for the goal that would win the Blues the trophy this time.

The tension of the occasion, combined possibly with the weight of past failure at this stage, seemed to tell on both sides through the first-half. These were the league’s two most enterprising sides managed by two coaches who learnt the ropes at none other than Barcelona. But it was more a patient tactical battle that unfolded even though Goa saw more of the ball with Bengaluru, organised enough to keep them in check.

It said a lot that the first clear-cut chance arrived in the 81st minute as Bengaluru captain Sunil Chhetri, kept quiet mostly until then, attempted to control an Udanta Singh cross with his chest. The ball fell to Xisco Hernandez whose back-heel set up Miku with just Naveen to beat. The Venezuelan’s left-footer, struck almost with his toe, only succeeded in clattering into the post. Miku had another chance to win it for Bengaluru in stoppage time but as he opted to control Nishu Kumar’s cross before pulling the trigger. Goa’s charismatic defender Mourtada Fall cleared the danger.

King’s Cup: India finishes 3rd

India finish 3rd in King’s Cup, June 9, 2019: The Times of India


Igor Stimac knows more than just a thing or two about defending. The Croatian coach, who won bronze at the 1998 World Cup in France as defender, masterminded his first win with the Indian team as the visitors edged out Thailand 1-0 for third-place at the King’s Cup in Buriram.

The Indian defence looked out of place in their 1-3 opening day defeat against Curacao. But up against the might of the hosts, the backfour remained steady as a new-look and young India emerged on top, despite Stimac making eight changes and retaining, crucially, just the three players at the back.

Adil Khan was the new player among the back-four, and the Pune City defender who was personally handpicked by the coach when the probables list was being discussed, had a hand in the only goal of the match. That happened in the 17th minute. A free-kick saw Adil latch on to the cleared ball on the left and played it inside the goalmouth where Anirudh Thapa sneaked in from nowhere to score.

The goal stunned Thailand. Anirudh had scored in the 1-4 win against the same opponents at the Asian Cup 2019, and even though they tried their best to claw their way back into the game, India’s defence didn’t afford them too many chances. India were without Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

2019: down to no.103

India out of top 100 in FIFA rankings, February 8, 2019: The Times of India


The Indian football team slipped out of the top 100 in the latest FIFA rankings following their back to back group league defeats during the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE. Skipper Sunil Chhetri and Co. slumped six places to be ranked 103 with 1219 points in the FIFA rankings.

India also dropped out of the top 16 in the AFC rankings, plummeting to 18th.

India had crashed out of the Asian Cup after losing to UAE and Bahrain, despite thrashing Thailand 4-1 in their opening group to make a good start to their campaign.

Following India’s exit, Stephen Constantine stepped down from his role as India chief coach.

The country will now need to play friendlies in March against higher-ranked countries to improve its ranking ahead of the draw of the second round of 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which is likely to be held in April.

Patel wins Fifa seat: A first for India

Marcus Mergulhao, A first for India: Patel wins Fifa seat, April 7, 2019: The Times of India


AIFF Boss Promises To Use His Power In Council To Take Indian Football To Another Level

Former civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, won one of the five seats on Fifa’s ruling council and promised to use his clout with the governing body for world football to help take Indian football to the next level.

Patel, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and senior vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), polled the joint highest votes as he became the first Indian to get elected to the Fifa Council. Patel, along with Japan Football Association president Kozo Tashima, won 38 of the 46 votes during elections at the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur.

The Fifa Council is a non-executive, supervisory and strategic body that sets the vision for Fifa and global football. Previously an executive committee, president Gianni Infantino expanded the committee to 37 members and renamed it the FIFA Council. Apart from the president, there are eight vice presidents and 28 members elected by the member associations – each for a term of four years.

“We organised the U-17 World Cup in 2017, now we have the U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2020. We will continue to use our position to have more Fifa competitions in India. We will use our clout to try and get more developmental funds for India. We have to do everything possible to take Indian football to the next level,” said Patel.

Patel is now into his third-term as AIFF president after first serving as acting president for a year after long-time head Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi suffered a cardiac arrest in 2008. He took over as full-time president in October 2009 before being re-elected for the top job in December 2012 and 2016. “I was an accidental AIFF president, because of Dasmunshi. Of course, I was interested in working for football and was WIFA president at that time. But I did not expect to become the AIFF president, then find favour with AFC as vice president and now the Fifa Council,” said Patel.

As senior vice president, Patel also had the honour of chairing the AFC Congress – another first for an Indian – after AFC president Sheikh Salman, elected unopposed for another four-year term, could not attend after the death of his mother this week. Besides Patel and Tashima, Saoud Al Mohannadi (Qatar), Du Zhaocai (China) and Mariano V. Areneta (Philippines) secured the simple majority after one round of voting, while Mahfuza Akhter Kiron (Bangladesh) won the lone seat for female member.

See also

Football: India

Football, India: Women’s

Manipur: Sports

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