These players put up charismatic display in the previous year.

2021 was quite an eventful year for Indian football, with a lot of developments taking place. While the majority of competitions still took place behind closed doors, it didn’t stop fans from witnessing some entertaining action.

Mumbai City FC did an unprecedented double in the Indian Super League. FC Goa became the first-ever Indian team to participate in the AFC Champions League. Gokulam Kerala won their maiden I-League title. Amidst all these, a few players stood out among the rest.

Some Indian talents excelled at the domestic and national level, producing impressive performances on a consistent basis. While the foreigners continued having their influence in games, a few foreign talents were crucial in helping their teams to success. With that being said, here is Khel Now’s Indian Football XI of the Year.

Goalkeeper: Dheeraj Singh (FC Goa)

The young custodian had a potentially career-defining year in Indian football in 2021. Dheeraj secured a move to FC Goa in early January and did not look back. With Mohammed Nawaz opting to move on, Dheeraj assumed the no.1 role at Goa and excelled under pressure. His best performances, of course, came in the AFC Champions League.

Dheeraj kept two clean sheets and produced some man-of-the-match-worthy displays. He was put in the ACL Team of the Tournament for his heroics. He’s proven himself as a reliable goalkeeper with the ability to make excellent reflex saves and was definitely the best #1 in Indian football in the previous year.

Right-Back: Asish Rai (Hyderabad FC)

2021 proved to be a great year for up-and-coming youngsters in Indian football. One of them was Asish Rai, who ended up having an excellent year at Hyderabad FC, where Manolo Marquez encouraged the development of youth. Rai built his reputation as one of the most exciting full-backs in the ISL last season, producing some memorable performances for the Nizams.

In 2021 alone, he helped his side to keep six clean sheets in 16 league appearances. He’s averaged three clearances and more than three blocks and tackles in the 2021-22 season, continuing his impressive work. Rai’s bright defensive ability and exciting attacking contribution makes him a potential future star for India.

Centre-Back: Mourtada Fall (Mumbai City FC)

The Senegalese defender was adamant to ensure that his big-money move from FC Goa to Mumbai City FC paid off last season. The towering centre-back excelled for the Islanders last season, scoring four goals as well. He was an absolute pillar in their backline, averaging more than five clearances, two tackles, and an impressive 84% passing accuracy every game.

Fall’s sturdy defensive work helped Mumbai win both the league stages and ISL playoffs, crowning them as double winners. Fall has also started the 2021-22 season well, scoring two goals already in six matches and helping Mumbai to the top ISL spot – capping off a brilliant 2021.

Centre-Back: Chinglensana Singh (Hyderabad FC)

Chinglensana also made his mark for the Indian national team following a string of good performances in ISL (Courtesy- ISL Media)

With India desperately needing a quality centre-back to partner Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh emerged as a standout candidate. The 25-year-old centre-back was part of an effective Hyderabad FC backline through the year, producing some impressive performances. Chinglesana’s pace, ability to make key clearances, and game-reading ability helped him gain the spotlight among Indian centre-backs.

He also broke through to the Indian national team, being part of the team that won the SAFF Championship. He’s started the 2021/22 season well with the Nizams and looks guaranteed to become a mainstay in the Hyderabad FC and Indian football team.

Left-Back: Akash Mishra (Hyderabad FC)

Another player to emerge from Hyderabad FC’s impressive backline in 2021 was young left-back Akash Mishra. The 20-year-old has excelled under Manolo Marquez’s system and produced some encouraging performances over the last year. Mishra averages nearly four tackles and three clearances this season so far, while also having an assist in six games.

Thanks to his tenacious work for the Nizams, Mishra also got called up to the Indian national team for the games in 2021. The 20-year-old seemingly has a bright future ahead and needs to keep performing consistently to become India’s mainstay left-back for years to come.

Midfield: Lalengmawia (NorthEast United/Mumbai City FC)

A no-brainer entry into Khel Now’s Indian Football XI of the Year. Lalengmawia has fully solidified his claim as ‘the next big thing’ in Indian football with some excellent work at the domestic and national levels over the last year. Apuia started excelling under Khalid Jamil at NorthEast United, helping them make the playoffs last season. He won the ISL Emerging Player of the Season award for his impressive work, proving himself a complete midfielder for the Highlanders.

Apuia got the national call-up and took his chances perfectly, playing a key role in India’s SAFF Championship win. The youngster was then signed by Mumbai City for a huge fee, solidifying him as one of the most expensive domestic players in India. Apuia has impressed for Mumbai so far this year and looks set to remain a key part in their set-up for the definite future.

Khel Now's Indian Football XI of the Year 2021
Khel Now’s Indian Football XI of the Year 2021

Midfield: Ahmed Jahouh (Mumbai City FC)

Now seemingly a veteran in the ISL, Ahmed Jahouh has asserted himself as one of the best midfielders in India. The Moroccan joined Mumbai City FC last season and has taken to life at his new club really well. The 33-year-old played a vital role in helping the Islanders win the double last season, registering five assists.

He also was at the top of passing stats, averaging 70+ passes per game for the Islanders. He’s started this season really well too, already registering five assists and a goal in seven appearances. Jahouh has made more passes (501) than anyone else in the ISL this season and is helping his side dominate the league.

Right Wing: Bipin Singh (Mumbai City FC)

Bipin had the breakout season of his career with Mumbai City in the previous campaign and proved he can succeed at the top of the ISL. The 26-year-old was one of the most prolific Indian attacking players last season, scoring six goals and assisting four. His movement, crosses and finishing ability helped him to win some important games for Mumbai – including the ISL final in which he scored the winner in the 90th minute.

He was awarded the Man of the Match award for the final, capping off a brilliant season. Singh also featured for India in the SAFF Championship and did pretty well. He’s had a decent start to the season for Mumbai, contributing with three goals (2G+1A) in seven appearances and still going strong as one of India’s best wingers.

Attacking Midfield: Hugo Boumous (Mumbai City FC/ATK Mohun Bagan)

Over the last year, Hugo Boumous has made a solid claim over being the best foreign player in India. He excelled for Mumbai City last season, scoring three goals and registering seven assists to help them win the double. For that, ATK Mohun Bagan snapped him for a record transfer fee and tied him to an unprecedented five-year contract!

Boumous has began his career with the Mariners pretty well, scoring five goals in seven games. He’s a joint-top scorer in the ISL and has been toying with opposition teams over the last year. Boumous is consistent, versatile and has that surprise factor to pop up with something special time and again – making him a delight to watch for Indian football fans.

Left Wing: Liston Colaco (Hyderabad FC/ATK Mohun Bagan)

Liston Colaco
Colaco impressed for Hyderabad FC before shifting base to ATK Mohun Bagan (Courtesy- ISL Media)

In the year of taking opportunities, Liston Colaco definitely took his with confidence and that gives him a spot in Khel Now’s Indian Football XI of the Year. The 23-year-old was one of the most exciting wingers in the ISL last season, scoring twice and registering three assists for Hyderabad FC. Liston was rewarded for his heroics, getting a high-profile move to ATK Mohun Bagan. Not just that, but he also got noticed by Igor Stimac and was called up to the Indian senior team.

He featured in the SAFF Championship win, producing some exciting displays. Colaco has started this season superbly, scoring four goals in seven appearances and is the joint-highest scoring Indian player in the league. Liston is only getting better and more dangerous, meaning fans can expect even bigger things going forward.

Centre-Forward: Igor Angulo (FC Goa/Mumbai City FC)

There might’ve been some concerns over his age when he arrived at the ISL, but Igor Angulo didn’t take much time to silence his doubters. The Spaniard had a brilliant year in the ISL, excelling for both FC Goa and Mumbai City in two different seasons. He scored 14 goals for the Gaurs last season, helping him win the Golden Boot over Roy Krishna.

The 37-year-old was surprisingly released after that, but Mumbai snapped him up. Angulo has started this year impressively, scoring five times in seven appearances and is currently the joint-highest scorer in the ISL, as of the time of writing this article. Despite his age, the Spaniard is ruthless in the final third and showed impressive energy, link-up ability to bully defenders – helping him to shine in India.

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