The year 2022 saw Indian football reach new heights despite much off-field drama, especially with the domestic clubs upping their game to deliver much-needed entertainment to fans of the sport. India’s prospects in the beautiful game continue to be on a steady rise, with fresh faces and young talent making their mark on the game.
The widespread following that the FIFA World Cup 2022 tournament in Qatar received across the country shows that people in India are willing to embrace the sport if it matches their expectations. With a new administration at the helm, Indian football now has the platform it needs to become a mainstream sport in the country.
Here’s a look at how Indian football fared in 2022:
Ban on AIFF And New Administration
In one of the darkest moments in India’s sporting history, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned the All-India Football Federation in August. The ban was a culmination of the deep mismanagement that lies at the heart of Indian football’s problems – with former players regularly calling for a systemic change in how the game is administered in the country.
India’s Supreme Court had to intervene after various petitions were filed about the new elections, with a Committee of Administrators appointed to oversee the body, much like the period BCCI had to go through in the past. But the reforms suggested by the CoA fell on deaf ears, as almost all State Bodies summarily rejected the reform proposals put forward by the three-member committee.
With the Supreme Court disbanding the CoA and conducting elections, Kalyan Chaubey was elected as the board’s president – the first former player to the top office in the board’s 85-year-old existence. But the failure of much-needed reform proposals is likely to hold back the growth of the sport in the country.
The new administration has promptly decided to chart a new path for football in India, taking several important decisions in the immediate weeks following its appointment. India decided to pull out of the race for hosting AFC Asian Cup in 2027, and has finally acted on merging both the domestic leagues into a unified setup.
India’s year at the international level began in January 2022, with the AIFF hosting the AFC Women’s Asia Cup in Mumbai and Pune. While the tournament itself attracted huge interest from the fans, the Indian Women’s team was forced out of the tournament due to an outbreak of the pandemic in the dressing room.
India’s Under-18 Women’s team won the SAFF Championship in March, defeating Bangladesh and Nepal to clinch the trophy. In the 2022 Under-17 Women’s World Cup, India were outclassed in the group stage – losing all their three games by conceding a record 16 goals. The Women’s national team failed to qualify for the final of the SAFF Championship held in September, despite being the top-ranked team in the subcontinent.
The Men’s team on the other hand had a phenomenal year under the captaincy of Sunil Chhetri. The AFC Asian Cup playoffs were held in a packed Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. India defeated Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Afghanistan in the third round, with India’s skipper Sunil Chhetri scoring in all three encounters. But the Under-20 team failed to qualify for the next AFC Asian Cup in October, with losses to both Iran and Australia in the group stage.
Indian Super League And Domestic Tournaments
In contrast to the mixed fortunes of the national teams, the domestic league set up in India is growing by leaps and bounds – an essential requirement for the success of the national team. The 2022 edition of the Indian Super League was the best-ever season in the league’s short history, with Jamshedpur FC breaking all records to win the League Winners’ shield and Hyderabad FC taking home the trophy.
The current season of the Indian Super League is also seeing highly thrilling encounters, with fans flocking to the stadiums to see their favourite stars in action. The decision of the league to shift back to a home-and-away model is helping generate local interest among the cities hosting the franchises. The decision of AIFF to promote two I-League teams to the Indian Super League next year also increased the stakes in the second-tier league.
At the global level as well, Indian clubs are starting to make their mark. Mumbai City FC made the whole country proud when it registered two wins in the AFC Champions League. Both ATK Mohun Bagan and Gokulam Kerala impressed everyone with their approach at the AFC Cup, with the former reaching the inter-zonal semifinals.
Sunil Chhetri made history in September by winning the Durand Cup with Bengaluru FC, clinching all major domestic trophies in India in his long and cherished career. The Santosh Trophy was clinched by Kerala in front of a packed crowd, continuing the dominance of the southern state in the sport.
With 2022 offering plenty of action on the field, the new year is also likely to see many critical wins for India both at the international and club-football levels. With the growth of the game in tier-2 and tier-2 towns, football is likely to become a mainstream sport on par with cricket in the next few years.
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