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    In Pics: 2011 International Football

    • India began the year by participating in the Asia Cup after a long gap of 27 years. Expectedly, they did not make it past an extremely tough group, and soon after coach Bob Houghton's five-year stint came to a controversial end. However, under new coach Savio Medeira, they ended the year on a high by winning a record sixth SAFF Cup title.

    • Undoubtedly India's biggest football star, Bhaichung Bhutia finally called time on his illustrious 16-year career after an injury-troubled season. Fortunately, fans will get the chance to give the striker a fitting farewell when he leads India out for a final time in an exhibition match against Bayern Munich in January next year.

    • Meanwhile, India found a new hero in Sunil Chhetri. After ending his frustrating stint at Kansas City Wizards, the striker signed for Mohun Bagan and also had trials with Scottish giants Rangers. However, it was with the national team that Chhetri shone, and his man-of-the-tournament haul of seven goals in India's victorious SAFF Cup campaign saw him win the AIFF Player of the Year award for 2011.

    • The best moment on India's footballing landscape this year, however, had nothing to do with an Indian. It was the arrival of the world's best player, Lionel Messi, which caused wild frenzy among football fans in the country. It was only an Argentina friendly against Venezuela, but the Barcelona star left his fans mesmerized on a memorable night in Kolkata.

    • It was also a memorable year for the Japanese women who won many hearts with their success at the Women's World Cup in Germany. Japan won the tournament for the first time, but the victory meant much more for a nation that had been devastated by a tsunami and earthquake just months earlier.

    • The Copa America threw up a surprise as well, as Uruguay, led by Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, upstaged traditional giants Brazil and Argentina for a record 15th title.

    • There were no shocks in the qualification for Euro 2012 though, as the big guns came through with relative ease. Spain remain the favourites after another impressive year, while Wayne Rooney's moment of madness earned him a red card in England's final qualifier and a ban that will see him miss the first two games of the tournament next year.

    • It was a controversial year off the pitch for the sport's governing body, with allegations of corruption and politicking refusing to abate. Sepp Blatter was re-elected for a fourth term as FIFA president unopposed, but caused a furore with yet another foot-in-mouth moment, this time suggesting racism rows could be solved by a handshake.

    • The ill-advised comments came at a time when racism returned as a matter of concern, at least in England. Liverpool's Luis Suarez was banned for eight games for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, while England and Chelsea captain John Terry became the first footballer to face criminal charges over alleged racist remarks towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. Contrary to Blatter's belief, this is an issue set to continue into 2012 as well.

    • 2011 also saw football mourn the loss of Brazilian legend Socrates and the untimely and shocking death of Wales manager Gary Speed. RIP.