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New Delhi: Securing the hosting rights of the prestigious 2017 Under-17 FIFA World Cup was the lone silver lining in an otherwise disappointing and forgettable year gone by for Indian football.

Indian football

 

On the field, it was one of the worst years in recent times with India failing to defend the SAFF Championships which the country has won six times out of the 10 editions held so far.
     
India could not even qualify for the final round of the AFC Challenge Cup, a tournament competed by middle-rung Asian nations in the FIFA rankings. India also played four international friendlies during the year, losing two, winning one and drawing the other.
     
The much-anticipated IPL-style football league proposed to be held early next year was also postponed to September 2014 just days before the franchise bidding, citing various factors, including scheduling conflicts with the I-League and non-availability of stadium in Goa due to delay in Lusofonia Games.
     
The All India Football Federation did not have much to show, as the national team was faring poorly, except for clinching of the 2017 Under-17 FIFA World Cup at the fag end of the year which no doubt was a landmark achievement in Indian football history.
     
The FIFA had encouraged India to bid for the mega event in continuation of its "football geo-politics" but the country nearly lost the tournament for want of assurances from the government-- a pre-requisite to host a FIFA event of this magnitude.
     
India's bid was rejected by the FIFA early in the year and its final bid documents were submitted at the last minute due to delay in getting government guarantees on various subjects.
     
By virtue of being the host country, an Indian team will play in the 24-nation tournament which will be held in six venues across the country.
     
Another high point for Indian football was the signing of goalkeeper Subrata Paul by Danish Superliga side FC Vestsjaelland, also known as FC Vikings, after a three-week trial stint with the club.
     
Paul will be with the Danish top-tier league side for a period of six months starting January 1. He will become the first Indian footballer to join a top tier side in Europe.
     
The year began with India losing to Palestine 2-4 in an international friendly played in Pune in February before producing a disappointing show in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying round in Myanmar.
     
India, under Wim Koevermans, lost 0-1 to hosts Myanmar in the final group match and failed to qualify for the final round to be held in Maldives next year.
     
The failure to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup final round meant that India will not be in contention for an automatic berth in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, the continent's flagship tournament.
     
The event which hurt India's pride the most was the failure to defend the SAFF Championships title in Kathmandu. SAFF Championships is one tournament where India can claim to be a dominant force but this time they were beaten by Nepal 1-2 in the group stage and lost 0-2 to a rising Afghanistan in the final.
     
India coach Koevermans' report card read six wins, two draws and four losses, not an impressive one considering that the country -- ranked 154th in the year-ending FIFA chart -- did not play against any top-rung nation. Tajikistan is the highest-ranked country -- 114th -- which India played against this year.

In its administrative decisions, the AIFF extended the contracts of head coach Koevermans and Technical Director Rob Baan and re-appointed its General Secretary Kushal Das for his second three-year term.
     
Koevermans' record was far from impressive after taking charge of the national team in July last year but the AIFF decided to extend the contract of the Dutchman for four months till the end of the Asian Games in October 2014. Koevermans will be in charge of India's campaign in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
     
The AIFF also extended the contract of Indian team technical director and fellow Dutchman Rob Baan by another year till October next year.
     
The 70-year Baan was appointed for a two year term in October 2011. He suffered a heart attack while conducting AFC Licensing Course in Mumbai in July. He spent some time at home in the Netherlands but returned to rejoin his job.
    
The AIFF also amended its constitution to bring in line with the government's Sports Code, mainly regarding the age and tenure rules.

 (Agencies)

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