The year 2007 has seen more highs than lows in Indian football. The first sign of a turnaround came at the Nehru Cup, which India won - a success that took a long time coming. But the euphoria did not last long. The team soon floundered at the World Cup qualifiers.
The World Cup is still a distant dream for India, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Positive vibes have emerged from the visit of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Nehru Cup triumph and the treaties with prominent professional leagues during the year.
The year began positively with the much awaited visit of the FIFA boss and his exhortation that India the "sleeping giant" should wake up. Blatter's trip coincided with the 70th anniversary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in April.
Never mind that India is languishing at a lowly 143 in FIFA rankings, Blatter's words were promising. The moolah, a whopping $1.4 million, flowed in from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The amount was in addition to the $250,000 FIFA grant to the AIFF.
Things started falling in place for the Indian team as they went to Portugal for a training camp in July, as preparation for the Nehru Cup, and remained unbeaten in all the matches.
Coach Houghton's mantra was: play more overseas and gain experience from international competitions. The Englishman's plan brought about a sea change in the confidence of Indian footballers. There was instant success by way of winning the Nehru Cup for the first time in August.
It was a new look Indian side with aggression hardly seen before, and it defeated a much higher ranked Syrian team to win the tournament, which had been revived after more than a decade.
Players gave the credit to Houghton and said that the 59-year-old former Middlesborough coach was responsible for changing the attitude to bring in a fair amount of confidence among the players.
Bhaichung Bhutia spoke for the players when he said Houghton has changed the mindset of the boys and made everyone to feel a sense of pride in representing the country.
The Indian captain also went to the extent of saying that Houghton is the best coach he had played under. The Englishman is an optimist at heart and has instilled the same feeling in the players.
India's next challenge was to be the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. But due to a sudden change in the dates of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, the tournament was postponed. The sudden change of the dates exposed India to a much stronger challenge of World Cup qualifiers.
India were pitted against a higher ranked Lebanon team in the first round qualifiers. Having beaten Syria -- Lebanon's neighbour -- in the Nehru Cup there was a hope in the air.
But Lebanon was a class apart and they stamped it all over with a 4-1 win over India in the first round in Beirut. In the return leg in Goa, India made it 2-2 but it wasn't enough to stop Lebanon from sailing into the second round with a 6-3 aggregate.
The momentum gained from the Nehru Cup win came to a standstill. It proved that until and unless India builds a sound youth development programme, its chances of playing in the World Cup would remain a fantasy.
But the unexpected success of the under-16 team at the AFC under-16 Championship rekindled the hope. The team, under the care of Colin Toal, director of the AIFF youth development programme, moved into the final stages of the Championship, with an incredible performance in the qualifying stage in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
India showed enough courage and defeated teams like Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and drew with Iraq. Hopefully, India will have its next bunch of Bhutias from this under-16 team.
The much-awaited Professional League also started in November after much dilly- dallying. AIFF officials were busy signing memorandums of understanding with different professional leagues to take Indian football to the next level.
It seems the wheels have started rolling and the 'sleeping giant' is being shaken vigorously to wake up.