Indian football: Best XI of the decade

From Sunil Chhetri to Clifford Miranda - Sportstar looks at the best Indian footballers over the last decade.

Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri has been the face of Indian football in the last decade.   -  Getty Images

Indian football witnessed its greatest of highs over the last decade. With as many as six managers taking charge of the team, the 2010s saw India breach the top-100 of the FIFA rankings and progress to the AFC Asian Cup twice in a decade for the first time – in 2011 and 2019.

But there were also the lows. The Blue Tigers failed to register a single win in their 2011 Asian Cup campaign before plummeting to their worst ever FIFA ranking – 173 – in March 2015.

Regardless, the decade gone by has seen monumental changes in Indian football. The Indian Super League (ISL) was established in 2013 and was named the country's top division this year, while the nation also had its first taste of football on the world stage when it hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. The decade also saw the emergence of India's first women's league – the Indian Women's League – which came about in 2016. Women's football received a much-needed fillip when the country won the hosting rights for the 2020 U-17 Women's World Cup.

The reigns of the men's team has changed hands at regular intervals, with the likes of Bob Houghton, Wim Koevermans having brief stints, but none enjoyed a longer stay than Stephen Constantine. During his five years in charge, the Englishman led India to a FIFA ranking of 96, the second-best in its history, and the 2019 Asian Cup. However, his regressive defence-favouring tactics did not win him too many praises and he made way for former Croatian World-Cupper Igor Stimac earlier this year.

At the start of a new decade, Sportstar looks at the top Indian footballers of the decade gone by.

Goalkeeper – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Subrata Pal was India's top goalkeeper at the turn of the decade, while Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was India's third choice at the time. Gurpreet turned heads when he was named in the final squad for the 2011 Asian Cup and has now gone on to make the role his own. Making his debut in 2011, and becoming the first Indian to play in the UEFA Europa League, the 27-year-old has been India's best goalkeeper in recent times.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made 11 saves in India's goalless draw against Qatar.   -  REUTERS

 

His best performance, and perhaps Indian football's strongest result this century, came in the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying tie against Qatar, where he made 11 saves to hold the Asian champion to a goalless draw.

Defenders – Sandesh Jhingan, Pritam Kotal, Syed Rahim Nabi, Gouramangi Singh

Syed Rahim Nabi was among India's most sought after defenders in the early 2010s when he made a remarkable 38 appearances between 2011 and 2013. Scoring six goals in the process, Nabi made his presence felt on both ends of the pitch as an effective wing-back.

Syed Rahim Nabi was effective at both ends of the pitch in the wing-back role. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

 

Jhingan is among the crop of footballers who made their senior team debut in 2015 and has emerged as a reckoning force in defence. Not one to shy away from a challenge, the burly defender has been pivotal in India's backline and has even captained the side on numerous occasions, including at the AFC Asian Cup.

Kotal made his debut in Constantine's first game in charge and remained a constant figure in the Englishman's squad. Racking up 35 appearances, Kotal has been a favourite in the right-back position.

Sandesh Jhingan has been at the heart of the Indian defence since his debut in 2015.   -  AIFF Media

 

Gouramangi, a product of the Tata football academy, will slot alongside Jhingan down the centre. The lanky defender played a key role in the Indian team's success between 2010-13 and earned himself 46 appearances in that period. He scored his career's sixth and final goal against Cameroon in the 2012 Nehru Cup as India went on to lift the title that year.

Midfielders – Anirudh Thapa, Udanta Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Clifford Miranda

Anirudh Thapa is the youngest entrant in this list but has emerged as a midfield mainstay since his arrival in the national team fold in 2017. Having made 24 appearances, he's shown great versatility and can double up as a defensive midfielder too.

At just 22, Anirudh Thapa has emerged as the midfield mainstay in the Indian team.   -  AIFF Media

 

It is of little debate that Udanta has been India's best man on the right flank. Putting up impressive performances at the club level fast-tracked his rise into the national team and seen him seal his spot on the wing.

Lyngdoh has been out of the national team for a while owing to an injury-plagued career but was one of the finest midfielders during his prime. Making 24 appearances since 2015, the midfielder thrived under Constantine and was a regular until his injury in 2017. Though age has caught up with him, Lyngdoh could still be a useful addition to India's midfield.

Eugeneson Lyngdoh thrived under Constantine until his injury in 2017.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

 

Miranda played only six games this decade before he retired in 2014 and was a vital cog in the Indian midfield. With 45 caps and six goals to his name, and a wealth of experience, Miranda completes our four-man midfield.

Forwards – Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua 

Chhetri has, without a doubt, been India's most consistent player over the last decade. From scoring in the 2011 Asian Cup to captaining the team at the 2019 edition, the decade saw Chhetri go on to become India's most-capped player. His recent exploits saw him take his international goal tally to 72, making him the second-highest goalscorer among active players in world football, only second to Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.

While life beyond Chhetri does seem difficult for the Indian team, the 35-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down and continues to remain India's most able captain and most potent striker.

Jeje Lalpekhlua formed a formidable strike partnership with Chhetri.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Jeje Lalpekhlua might not be India's best strike option at the moment, but his contributions have been invaluable over the years. Forming a lethal combination with Chhetri, the two were India's most prolific attacking duo in the past decade.

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