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Indian football is reaching new heights every day as the national team and the Indian Super League are progressing hand in hand with Sunil Chhetri leading the Indian side with 94 goals on the international stage.
Clubs like Mohun Bagan SG, Mumbai City, Goa, and Bengaluru have impressed in the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup competitions over the last decade. They will need to keep their performances at the top level, with the Asian Football Confederation introducing three competitions from the 2024-25 season onwards.
The Rich Tapestry of Football in India
Football was adopted very early by the Indians and was one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation till 1970, before a rapid decline in the quality of coaches and players succumbed the nation to mediocre results for a few decades.
Of late, the fans and the federations across the country have powered the sport back into the limelight with investment in infrastructure helping to develop quality players at the grassroots level.
Historical roots and evolution
India was introduced into the world of football by the British army and the efforts of Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari, who formed and closed down several clubs in the 19th century. Sovabazar Club, founded by Sarbadhikari, was one of the most famous clubs back in the 1890s and also became the first Indian club to defeat a British team (East Surrey Regiment) in 1892.
In 1889, Mohun Bagan AC, the oldest football club in India, was founded as Mohun Bagan Sporting Club, and the Mariners became the first Indian club to win the IFA Shield in 1911 by defeating East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in the final.
Iconic moments in Indian football
With the onset of the 20th century, India started becoming a significant power in sports like football and cricket as the fight for independence was brewing within the revolutionaries. A sense of victory in sports dominated by the Britishers was fuelled by the passion of those fighting for independence.
At the 1948 London Olympics, India gave a tough fight to the France national team as the French edged the encounter 2-1, but the British newspapers sang praise of the ‘barefooted Indians’ who fought till the end.
On 10th March 1951, India won its first gold medal in football at the Asian Games as they defeated a strong Iran team 1-0 in the final courtesy of a Sheoo Mewalal goal. Under the guidance of Syed Abdul Rahim, India became a superpower in Asian football, and the fans started calling the team ‘The Brazilians of Asia’.
In the 1956 Olympics, India finished fourth and just missed out on the bronze medal after becoming the first Asian nation to make it to the semi-final of the Olympics. At the 1962 Asian Games, India once again won the gold medal, defeating South Korea 2-1 in the final, with the likes of Chuni Goswami, Pradip Kumar Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram, and Pradyut Barman shining in the tournament.
Rise of the Indian Super League
In 2014, the All India Football Federation started the Indian Super League powered by commercial partner Football Sports Development Limited. The ISL has brought better infrastructure, higher quality coaching staff, and a revamp of the grassroots system in the Indian football scene.
Impact of ISL on Indian Football
The ISL was started as a franchise league in the model of the Indian Premier League, but it became the first tier of Indian football as the I-League was demoted to the second division of the national football pyramid.
Since the advent of the ISL, the Indian football team’s performances have bettered on the world stage and under Igor Stimac’s guidance, players who rose through the ISL, like Akash Mishra, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Anwar Ali, and Jeakson Singh have become national team regulars.
Star players and memorable matches
With world-renowned players like Dimitar Berbatov, Robert Pires, Diogo Forlan, Alessandro Del Piero, and Nicolas Anelka joining the ISL, the league’s stocks rocketed through the roof in the first five years, helping bring coaches like Manolo Marquez, Owen Coyle, and Des Buckingham to the Indian shores.
The 2018-19 ISL final between Bengaluru and Goa was the tightest of affairs settled by a great header from defender Rahul Bheke, helping the Blues lift their first ISL title.
In the 2022-23 ISL semi-final, Bengaluru had a first-leg lead through a Sunil Chhetri goal followed by a Javi Hernandez early goal in the second leg. Goals from Bipin Singh and Mehtab Singh helped Mumbai City take the match to penalties, where 17 players hit perfect penalties before Mehtab missed his attempt helping the Blues reach the final.
India’s performance in international tournaments
After the golden years became a thing of the past, India started struggling at the international stage, failing to even qualify for the second round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers till 2018.
In the AFC Asian Cup, India finished as the runners-up in the 1964 edition and then failed to qualify for several editions winning two of the 24 qualifying matches. In the three editions that India participated in, the Blue Tigers failed to progress out of the group stage.
In 2023, India won two tournaments, the Intercontinental Cup followed by the SAFF Championship trumping strong teams like Lebanon and Kuwait en route to the trophy.
Future prospects and challenges
India has already qualified for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, which will commence in January 2024 in Qatar, and the Blue Tigers have been placed in a tough group consisting of Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria.
Talking about the FIFA World Cup ambitions of the nation, the world football governing body has announced that the World Cup will have 48 teams starting with the 2026 edition of the tournament. Out of 48, a minimum of nine slots will be awarded to Asia, which would definitely allow the Blue Tigers to challenge for a spot in the megafest if they have a good qualification campaign.
Betting Tips for Football Fanatics
In football, one can bet on the final result either via a single attempt or a ‘double chance’. The next most popular bet is on totals, the total number of goals scored by both teams or either team in the match.
Handicaps and final correct score are two more options for football fanatics to put their wager on, while parlays are quite popular in football betting if you have knowledge of a specific league.
Decoding league performances
Whenever a side is on a roll with the winning momentum on their side, bookmakers often predict the favorites with slightly less favorable odds, and the underdogs have a much better wager-to-return ratio.
For example, in the match between England and Italy in the Euro qualifiers, if one bets on England, they will get 1.6x or 1.8x of the money they initially put in the bet, but if one bets on Italy, they can earn up to 2.4x or 2.5x of the initial bet.
Tips for maximising returns
For one to maximise their returns, they should understand that no football team’s purple patch keeps running on for the entirety of a league season. We can analyse the matchups between certain key players before a key clash, enabling us to make a more confident bet.