The year was full of ups and downs for the country’s football as it underwent many changes.
Football will remember 2022 for many things, from the World Cup taking place in new calendar months to Lionel Messi finally getting his hands on the coveted trophy. The world came out of the pandemic mainly this year as crowd attendance at grounds resumed all over the world in 2022. Indian football too, witnessed many upheavals in the current year, ranging from facing a FIFA ban to qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup for a consecutive edition for the first time.
The country also found new management at the helm of its footballing body and achieved success in junior and club-level international tournaments. In light of these, we will take a look at the top 10 things that happened to Indian football in 2022.
10. Four Indian women footballers signing for top-tier overseas clubs
India took a major leap in women’s football in 2022 as four Indian women players signed for overseas clubs playing in their top-tier leagues. This comes as a watershed moment for the country’s women’s football as this is the first time so many Indians have signed for top-tier foreign clubs in a single year.
Despite having a setback in the form of a shocking elimination from the 2022 SAFF Women’s Championship, players signing for foreign clubs acted as a silver lining for the country’s football in general. Going ahead, youngsters of every gender will take inspiration from these players’ achievements and aim to repeat their feat.
The concerned players who went overseas are Grace Dangmei (Uzbekistan), Manisha Kalyan (Cyprus), Jyoti Chauhan (Croatia), and Soumya Guguloth (Croatia). We, from Khel Now, wish all of them the heartiest congratulations and hope they continue to make our country proud outside for as much time as possible.
9. Mumbai City FC finishing second in their ACL group, ahead of clubs from Gulf countries
Another positive takeaway is the performance of Mumbai City FC in their AFC Champions League outing. Mumbai City not only became the first Indian club to win a match in the coveted continental tournament, but they also finished second in their group by winning two games and drawing one. With seven points from six games, the Islanders finished ahead of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force Club) from Iraq and Al Jazira Club from UAE.
While many expected that winning a single game would be a huge achievement for the side, Mumbai City players had different intentions in mind. They showed that Indian clubs can also do good at the continental level. Their performance will definitely inspire other Indian clubs to reach the Champions League and leave their mark on the league in a similar manner.
8. SAFF U-18 Women’s Championship win at home
While India missed out on maintaining its perfect record of winning the SAFF Women’s Championship after defeat in the 2022 edition, the juniors were able to provide some consolation to the country by winning the U-18 competition. This is the first time India became the champion of the event, in the tournament’s third edition.
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It was also India’s first time hosting the tournament. Hence, winning the tournament at home provided fans with some joy after the disappointment from the senior women’s team.
With this win, India are expected to dominate the tournament in the upcoming editions in the manner in which the country dominates the senior edition. Moreover, U-18/19/20 SAFF tournaments will help to scout young talents who can carry forward the baton of the senior team.
7. Winning 2022 SAFF U-20 Championship
Indian football achieved another triumph in the year when it clinched the 2022 SAFF U-20 Championship. India hosted this tournament too and emerged victorious, similar to the junior women’s team. It was the second title for the country in the tournament’s fourth edition. The competition brought players like Gurkirat Singh and Himanshu Jangra to prominence, who have begun their club football journey in ISL.
The victory showcased that India is a dominant footballing nation within the SAFF even in age-based competitions. While the senior team will be playing in the upcoming Asian Cup, fans can hope of these triumphant youngsters to carry forward the dream of playing in the World Cup in the upcoming days.
6. Qualifying for 2023 AFC U-17 Asian Cup
Another set of Indian youngsters made the country proud in 2022 as India qualified for the 2023 AFC U-17 Asian Cup. This is the ninth, and the third consecutive time, that India qualified for the main stage of the U-17 Asian Cup. In the qualifying rounds, India achieved a hat-trick of wins against the Maldives (5-0), Kuwait (3-0), and Myanmar (4-1).
In the final game against two-time U-17 Asian Cup champions Saudi Arabia, India displayed a spirited performance despite losing the game 2-1. Eventually, the side qualified for the main rounds as one of the six best runner-ups across all the groups.
This bunch of youngsters will get to play the big boys of Asia in the year ahead. With the likes of Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Qatar on the roster, the prospects look highly exciting for the likes of Thanglalsoun Gangte and Vanlalpeka Guite to register a good outing and make the country proud on a big platform.
5. FIFA Suspension
One of the most talked about things regarding Indian football in 2022 was the suspension imposed by FIFA on the country’s football governing body AIFF. FIFA suspended Indian football on August 15, 2022, citing third-party intervention. After previous AIFF President Praful Patel refused to vacate the post, the Supreme Court of India appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to look after the matters. FIFA adjudged this as a third-party influence, resulting in suspension.
While matters looked extremely bleak for Indian football after the suspension, Indian footballing stakeholders responded proactively to resolve the crisis. The Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs played an active role in this regard. Consequently, the Supreme Court-appointed CoA was dissolved and the AIFF administration regained full control of daily affairs.
This propelled FIFA to revoke the ban on August 26, 2022, only after one and a half weeks of suspension. The rapid response from the Indian authorities meant that the country did not lose a lot in terms of football, barring the invaluable loss of Gokulam Kerala FC women who missed out on the Women’s AFC Champions League outing due to the suspension.
4. Decision regarding promotion of I-League winners to ISL
2022 witnessed a watershed moment for Indian club football as the AIFF decided to introduce promotion to the Indian league system. The decision came as a relief to the many clubs competing in the I-League as they will get a chance to play in the ISL without paying any franchise fee if they can win this season’s league. However, the clubs will have to fulfil the Premier 1 licensing criteria in order to be eligible for ISL participation.
The decision of promoting I-League winners to ISL will open up the latter, which has been a closed league since its inception in 2014. It will surely benefit Indian football, as promotion and relegation are the norms of club football across the world. Following this decision, we can expect relegation to be introduced in ISL from the 2024-25 season.
3. Unceremonious exit from AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 at home
India hosted a big-ticket event in 2022, the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, for the first time since 1979. The competition took place between January 20 and February 6, 2022, and was a huge success. Despite the tournament being held amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers successfully implemented a bio-secure bubble and conducted the tournament within COVID-appropriate protocols.
Despite the best efforts to contain the assault of COVID on the tournament, several teams like China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Myanmar reported positive COVID-19 cases. Hosts India were affected the most as 12 of their players tested positive for the virus, rendering them unable to play in the competition based on tournament guidelines. This was a heart-breaking moment for the Blue Tigresses as the excitement of hosting the coveted continental tournament was dampened by the forced withdrawal.
2) Change in AIFF management after 13 years
A major change that took place in Indian football in 2022 is the change in the guard of AIFF. The previous AIFF President, Praful Patel, held on to the post for the past 13 years, between 2009 and 2022. Patel held on to the post even after his term expired in 2020. As a consequence, the Supreme Court of India ousted him for violating the National Sports Code (it states no office bearer can hold on to a sporting position for over 12 years or three terms of four years) and appointed a Committee of Administrators that led to the FIFA suspension.
Following all this chaos, fresh elections took place for selecting the new AIFF management. Kalyan Chaubey took over as the President, NA Haris as Vice President, and Kipa Ajay as the Treasurer of AIFF. In addition, 14 members were elected to the Executive Committee unopposed. We would like to see how this management plans the days ahead to take Indian football to a new level.
1) Qualifying for AFC Asian Cup
Arguably, the biggest achievement for Indian football in 2022 was qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. The nation qualified for the prestigious event for a consecutive occasion for the first time in its footballing history, having played in the 2019 edition. In 2019, the Blue Tigers narrowly missed out on qualifying for the knockout stages, a miss that will be fresh in the minds of most of the players. Hence, they would be keen to redeem themselves in the upcoming edition.
Whatever the outcome of the AFC Asian Cup outing, the feat of qualifying for the elite continental tournament for a consecutive time in itself is a historic achievement for our country. The manner in which the side played in the qualifiers was also very praiseworthy as India won all the matches. Most of the boys played well with Sunil Chhetri showing scintillating form. Expectations will surely be high come the Asian Cup.