On the way to 2022, the sport continues to yearn for that great success story, that massive breakthrough that will change it forever, especially from a performance standpoint on the field.
During the year the Indian men’s team won a record-breaking eighth SAFF championship title, but for a nation trying to emerge from its glory days of the 1950s-60s and re-establish itself on the big stage, a regional tournament triumph is a triumph not something it wants to grapple with.
But that is exactly where the problem lies.
The moment the Indian men encountered larger teams, they struggled to deliver the goods and get good results, even though the Blue Tigers played well at times.
Whenever, after a valiant fight against a Biggie, it seemed like a win was coming, the team could only achieve a draw.
The Indian men’s team ended their season in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying with seven points after four draws, three defeats and one win from eight games.
They scored six goals and conceded seven and again failed to win the second round of qualifying.
India placed in Group E of qualifying, finishing third behind Qatar and Oman.
However, India still has a chance to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
Veteran Sunil Chhetri overtook legendary Pele and was able to catch up with Lionel Messi when he kicked off – and scored his 80th goal – in the SAFF Championships summit match against Nepal in October.
Draws against Bangladesh (1-1) and Sri Lanka (0-0) in the first two games of the tournament had drawn criticism, but India rounded up just in time to win the next game and its dominance in the regional meeting.
Head coach Igor Stimac was under immense pressure after a long series of inconspicuous missions, but was able to keep his job for another year.
When it came to women’s football, it has been a year preparing for the upcoming litmus tests.
2021 was all about preparation, participation in invitation tournaments, excursions and friendly games so that the women are ready when the country hosts the AFC Asian Cup in January-February and the U-17 World Cup towards the end of next year .
The results were poor to say the least, although during their stay in South America the team showed the attributes to fight when they faced world football heavyweight Brazil, among others.
According to the numbers, they have lost 11 of their 14 games this year, with Maymol Rocky and Thomas Dennerby being recruited for the two major tournaments ahead.
Rocky’s tenure ended after a series of poor performances. But to do justice to her, she had taken the reins during a difficult phase and helped the team to form a cohesive unit.
With a potential six World Cup finals in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2023, India will try to do its best to get on the world stage.
The players are aware of the opportunity and must seize it with both hands.
“This is the time to do our best, we won’t regret it later. For us, every game we play is going to be a situation where we die. Every game is an opportunity for us,” said Winger Dangmei Grace said the Asian Cup.
India is linked to Iran, Chinese Taipei and China and the host country will have its role against these teams.
Of the 27 players present at the Kochi camp, 13 were under the age of 25 and all had worked hard to form the final squad.
“There are a lot of young players in the squad who are all working very hard to get to the Asian Cup final.
“We even have some very young players who are also in the U-17s – Shilky (Devi), Astam (Oraon), Martina (Thokchom) and a few others who have put a lot of energy into the squad,” said Grace.
Another highlight of the year was FC Goa, who played in the Indian Super League (ISL) in the AFC Champions League and made history like no other club in the country had come this far.
Meanwhile, Chhetri found himself on the bench, perhaps for the first time in more than a decade, when his team, Bengaluru FC, struggled to get going during the first phase of the ISL.
He’s not getting any younger at 37 and it remains to be seen how long he will remain the face of Indian football. The coming year could give a clearer picture.
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