Friendlies need of the hour after mixed year
New Delhi: From triumph to tribulation, Indian football experienced the good, bad and ugly in equal measure in 2012, but the event that undoubtedly hogged the limelight was the visit by a legendary club from the faraway Bavarian region in Germany.
If completing a hat-trick of Nehru Cup title wins at home was a positive development, the disastrous campaign in the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal let the fans down.
Ugly was the violence-ridden I-League derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, which had to be called off after the latter refused to play citing security reasons. Mohun Bagan could be slapped with a ban, but a decision is awaited.
The future, though, augurs well given the under-22 side`s showing in the AFC Championship qualifying tournament, in which it defeated Lebanon and Turkmenistan apart from drawing UAE.
It wasn`t a good beginning for the senior team as it endured a spate of defeats in the AFC tournament, losing all their matches.
Lack of international friendlies on FIFA dates did not help India`s cause as they slipped to 169 in September -- their lowest-ever rankings in recent years. Stress should be given on organising more international friendlies on FIFA dates in order to help India improve their rankings.
The Nehru Cup triumph was commendable, but it did not help as far as improvement in rankings was concerned. The matches were not played on FIFA dates and the team sent by Cameroon was a second-string one. The one Syria fielded, was also not full-strength either.
As far as individuals were concerned, Sunil Chhetri and Syed Rahim Nabi were the two players who captured the imagination of the fans over the last 12 months.
In an inspirational move for Indian football, which has long struggled to make its presence felt on the world stage, Chhetri signed up with Sporting Lisbon, the legendary Portuguese club that has given the world the likes of Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
Towards the end, Nabi was named the AIFF player of the year, a fitting reward for a tireless worker who had long established himself as the one who can play in any position.
Making a comeback to the side after almost a one-year layoff, Subrata Paul`s performance under the bar in the Nehru Cup, too, deserves mention.
Another important development was the appointment of Dutchman Wim Koevermans as the national team coach, almost a year after Bob Houghton`s ouster.
World football`s governing FIFA signing a pact with the All Indian Football Federation to develop and promote the sport in India, was also a positive development.
Aiming to raise the profile of the sport in the country, the AIFF also bid for hosting the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, which is also a part of FIFA`s promotional programmes in the country.
However, it was Bayern Munich`s arrival that remained the talk of the town for some time.
Amid much fanfare, the German club touched down at the capital to play against the national team in former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia`s farewell match at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in January.
Eight months later, in the same venue, the national team triumphed for the third time in a row in the Nehru Cup, as it defeated a much higher-ranked Cameroon in a thrilling final that went down to the tie-breaker.
Football enthusiasts were seen tiptoeing across the stadium to get tickets on both occasions, though the numbers were expectedly far greater for the Bayern match on January 10, reflecting the Indians` fascination for international stars.
Bayern had the big names in abundance -- Arjen Robben, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery to name a few. And those present at the floodlit JLN lapped up all gleefully.
It was a lifetime opportunity for football fans and young players to watch India and a full-strength Bayern Munich team on the same platform.
As Bhutia himself put it later, it was something that "doesn`t happen often in Indian sports".
The hooplah around the exhibition match was appropriate as Bayern is undoubtedly the most successful club in Germany having won an unprecedented 21 Bundesliga titles.
Their stay created a never-seen-before buzz in the Capital and the entire nation watched with bated breath some of the world`s best footballers weaving their magic.
Just like with Argentine wunderkind Lionel Messi`s three-day stay in Kolkata the year before, the aficionados of Indian football saw the Bayern event as a platform designed to give the sport`s profile a boost in the sub-continent.
The high-profile event generated widespread excitement and managed to rake in the moolah from broadcasters and sponsors.
And what was even more appropriate was that the proceeds of the match went to the victims of the devastating earthquake that rocked Sikkim last September.
On the sidelines of its recently-held Annual General Meeting (AGM), the federation also effected a major reshuffle, which saw induction of three new vice-presidents as well as members from the five zones.