The year had lots of memorable moments which brought a lot of joy to the football community.
The year 2021 was a very eventful one, especially in the context of Indian football. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting most activities, Indian football resiliently strived forward. Several individuals caught the eye while going on to achieve big accolades during the past year. Moreover, many iconic events took place which became the highlights of a year full of ups and downs.
In a few days, 2021 will be a thing of the past and the world will welcome 2022, hoping for better days. However, this is the perfect opportunity to look back at the past 12 months and reminisce. The year gave the Indian football fans a lot to cheer about.
On that note, here are the top 10 moments in Indian football in 2021:
10. Sandesh Jhingan’s move to HNK Sibenik
Sandesh Jhingan is one of India’s best centre-backs and a regular in the national team. Before the 2021-22 season began, the former ATK Mohun Bagan player secured a move to Croatian top flight club HNK Sibenik.
Jhingan chose to move to Europe to play at a higher level in order to develop his own game. He joined a very exclusive list of Indian footballers who have signed a professional contract with a European top flight club.
9. ISL’s inclusion in FIFA 22
The Indian Super League got global recognition in 2021. Its inclusion in the console and PC versions of FIFA 22, the highly-popular football video game by EA Sports was a major moment.
This enabled thousands of users to play as ISL teams and use the available players in-game. The ISL’s inclusion into the console and PC versions of FIFA 22 was an acknowledgement of its growing popularity.
8. Manisha Kalyan’s goal against Brazil
Manisha Kalyan is a major upcoming talent in women’s football in India. A star for the future, she received the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year award as well in 2021.
However, her big moment came when India shared the field with mighty Brazil in a four-nation tournament. Manisha Kalyan scored an incredible solo goal which was historic for many reasons. This was India’s first-ever goal against Brazil at the senior level.
7. Khalid Jamil became first Indian head coach in ISL
Khalid Jamil took over the reins at NorthEast United mid-season last year and guided the team to the playoffs. His impressive influence and work led the management to hire him as the permanent head coach.
Therefore, Khalid Jamil became the first-ever Indian head coach of an ISL club. He would lead the Highlanders during the 2021-22 season.
6. Juan Ferrando’s mid-season move to ATK Mohun Bagan
The ongoing season of the ISL saw a huge development after last year’s runners-up ATKMB were struggling to cope with the competition. Their dwindling form led to the dismissal of head-coach Antonio Lopez Habas.
The club management poached Juan Ferrando from FC Goa by activating his buyout clause. The move created a lot of discussion amongst the fans as this was an unprecedented event in the ISL.
5. Gokulam Kerala in AFC Women’s Club Championship
Gokulam Kerala participated in the AFC Women’s Club Championship in 2021. This was a major event for women’s football and the outfit locked horns with the likes of FC Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan, Shahrdari Sirjan FC of Iran and Amman SC of Jordan.
GKFC finished with two defeats and a victory which came in the last match against FC Bunyodkor, the champions of the Uzbek women’s football championship.
4. Dheeraj Singh’s inclusion in ACL TOTS
FC Goa’s exploits in the AFC Champions League was a major event in 2021. The outfit were impressive in their display against extremely tough opposition. One of the best performers from the squad was young goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh.
He kept two clean-sheets and made countless incredible saves for the Gaurs. His performances got recognition by the end of the tournament. The custodian’s inclusion in the ACL Team of the Season was the first for an Indian player.
3. India’s SAFF Championship win
The Indian men’s national team were one of the participants in the 2021 SAFF Championship. The Maldives were the hosts of the tournament which saw teams like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India take part.
The Blue Tigers started on a disappointing note, drawing their first two games. However, Igor Stimac’s men then picked up momentum and went on to win the next three matches, eventually lifting the first title under the Croatian tactician. India overcame Nepal in the final by a 3-0 scoreline.
2. FC Goa’s appearance in AFC Champions League
FC Goa became the first Indian football club to participate in the group stages (main phase) of the AFC Champions League. It is the pinnacle of Asian club football where the best teams from various Asian leagues participate. The Gaurs, owing to finishing atop the points table after the league stage in the ISL, contested against teams like Al-Wahda, Al-Rayyan and Persepolis.
Impressively, the team gave a good account of themselves, earned three points in six matches and almost secured a victory over Al-Rayyan. The in-roads made by FCG will act as inspiration for Indian football at large for years to come.
1. Sunil Chhetri’s Khel Ratna
Sunil Chhetri is a legend of Indian football and many regard him as the best Indian footballer of all-time. He became the first footballer to receive the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award earlier in 2021. It is the biggest sporting honour given to an individual in India. Chhetri’s contribution towards football is immense and he continues to inspire thousands of youngsters every day.
He is the second-highest active goalscorer in international football with 80 goals, tied with Lionel Messi and second only to Cristiano Ronaldo who has 115 goals. This moment was certainly the most iconic event in Indian football in 2021.