To say this decade has been eventful for Indian football would be an understatement, it has been immensely happening and the events that have happened this year could well-define how the country approaches the sport over the next few decades. From Sunil Chhetri becoming a household name to European fan culture overtaking our galleries, from the endless ISL v I-League conflict to India beating Thailand twice in one year, a lot has happened and it would be next to impossible to enlist all of them in one article.
Going into the new decade, we already have a roadmap in place that will see the ISL and I-League merge into one league by 2023/24 and Indian clubs offered the opportunity to play more regularly in the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.
However, in this article, we attempt to pen down the most memorable and meaningful moments in Indian football from 2010-19:
2010: Chhetri against Man Utd for Kansas City Wizards
The decade started with an immense high for Indian football fans when they got to see their future captain take to the field against Manchester United in a pre-season friendly. Featuring for only 21 minutes for the Kansas City Wizards, an American outfit, Chhetri battled with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Nani and Dimitar Berbatov at the Arrowhead Stadium.
He, however, did huff and puff the United defence and even took quite a few shots at United’s the-then goalkeeper Benjamin Amos, but did not manage to get his name on the scoresheet.
2013: East Bengal make it to the AFC Cup semis undefeated
Dempo SC may have been the first Indian club to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup in 2008 but 5 years onwards, Kolkata giants East Bengal FC did one better and reached the semis going on a 9-match unbeaten streak in the AFC Cup. It was the first time an Indian club achieved that feat but coincidentally three of the players from the 2008 Dempo squad were also in the Red and Gold team that season: Chidi Edeh, Joaquim Abranches and Abhijit Mondal.
2014: Bengaluru FC win the I-League in their very first season
Having come into existence in 2013, Bengaluru FC laid down the marker in Indian football when they lifted the I-League title in their very first season. Under the tutelage of Ashley Westwood and led by the likes of Chhetri and Sean Rooney, the Blues finished ahead of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Dempo to make history. Since then, they have lifted atleast one trophy every season which includes 2 I-Leagues, 2 Federation Cups, 1 Super Cup and 1 Indian Super League triumph.
2014: India women’s team wins the SAFF Women’s Championship
In 2009, FIFA hit the All India Football Federation with severe sanctions regarding the state of Indian football in the country. The SAFF Women’s Championship, which was started in 2010 to solve this particular crisis has seen only 1 winner since it’s inception and the Indian women’s team completed their hat-trick triumph in style in 2014 when they thrashed Nepal 6-0 in the final.
2014: ATK win the inaugural season of ISL
2014 also saw the birth of the cash-rich Indian Super League and the formation of franchises instead of clubs to play football that would also have Bollywood and entertainment served as cocktails. The idea was to fine-tune the sport as a community and several celebrities were involved in the same, with Sourav Ganguly’s ATK winning the opening edition by beating Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters in the final.
2015: Mohun Bagan become the first Kolkata club to win the I-League
Since the reorganization and branding of the National Football League in 2007 as the I-League, no Kolkata club had managed to get their hands on the trophy. The Mariners finally ended the curse in 2015, when they ousted the defending champions Bengaluru FC at the Kanteerava and ended the long wait to bring a national title back to the City of Joy.
2016: Bengaluru FC become the first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup finals
In a major achievement in Indian football history, Bengaluru FC made it to the final of the AFC CUP beating the defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semi-finals. The Blues eventually lost the final, but for the first time in forever Indian footballers dared to compete and excel at the international stage.
2016: GSS becomes the first Indian to feature in the UEFA Europa League
India’s number one custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu took to field for Stabaek in June 2016 knowing that he was making history. On 30th, he became the first Indian to make his bow in the UEFA Europa League as he started against Connah’s Quad Nomays FC in an away qualifier in Wales.
2017: India’s first-ever women’s professional league begins with 6 teams
After many rounds of discussions and much hullabaloo, India finally began it’s first-ever professional league with 6 teams in January 2017. All the games were played out of the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi and since then the number of teams participating has doubled to 12 in the latest season.
2017: Jeakson Singh’s Goal v Columbia in the FIFA U-17 World Cup
From Sanjeev to Jeakson to the back of the net, the move was over in a flash and history was made. The first ever Indian to score at a FIFA World Cup, Jeakson’s goal moved a nation to its heels as it hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup on it’s soil. In the end, the hosts bowed out in the group stages but fans across the nation were united in the hope that bigger and better days await Indian football.
2017: India beat Macau to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup after 8 years
India thrashed Macau 4-1 in Bangalore to seal their participation in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup with goals from Rowllin Borges, Chhetri, Jeje and an own goal to return to the main draw of the second oldest continental football competition after 8 long years.
2018: India lifts Intercontinental Cup at home beating Kenya 3-0
Following captain Chhetri’s viral plea to fans in Mumbai to come out and make their voices heard in the final of the Intercontinental Cup in 2018, India locked horns against Kenya in what was also coincidentally Chhetri’s 100th cap for India. India were the highest-ranked side in the tournament, having broken into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings only a couple of weeks earlier. He scored a brace, enlisted his name amongst the top 3 active international goalscorers alongside Ronaldo and Messi and sealed off a perfect night with a brilliant Viking Clap along with the fans from the Mumbai Football Arena.
2018: India U-20 side beats Argentina U-20
In August, the young Indian colts caused a major upset at the COTIF in Spain as they beat heavyweights Argentina 2-1. Goals from Deepak Tangri and Anwar Ali sealed the deal for Floyd Pinto and his boys as they scripted an unforgettable victory over the 6-time U-20 World Cup champions and also became the first Indian side ever to beat a Latin American football team.
2019: India beat Thailand 4-1 in the AFC Asian Cup and then again in the Kings Cup.
India came close to getting out of the group stages in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup but it did not quite pan out that way. They, however, did beat Thailand in thrilling fashion in the Asian Cup and then again, a couple of months later in the Kings Cup. Thailand was a better-ranked side than India as per FIFA, so there is no doubt that those wins will serve as long-term motivation to the squad.
2019: India holds Qatar to a 0-0 draw in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers
Thanks to the spiderman-esque heroics of Gurpreet and some unbelievable defending and sheer luck, India eked out an outrageous 0-0 draw away to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar in September 2019 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Although the Men in Blue have failed to build on the impetus of the draw since then, the result will be a very memorable one to all those who were fortunate to watch it live.
2019: The City Football Group comes to India
In late November, the world-famous City Football Group, football’s most valuable entity and owners of clubs like Manchester City couped up a sizeable share of the ISL outfit Mumbai City FC and thus marked their foray into the Indian football scenario. It could have landmark implications on where the sport is headed in the country in the new decade, as the CFG has been known to transform clubs and their setups and infrastructure wherever they go.