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ESPN India Awards 2018: Who will win Team of the Year?

From I-League champions Minerva Punjab FC to Pro Kabaddi League winners Bengaluru Bulls, India's best teams feature in ESPN India's nominations for the Team of the Year.

Who will take away the big one?

Bengaluru Bulls

Bengaluru won their maiden PKL title, effectively in January 2019, but it was their league form that stood out, topping their zone, which included PKL powerhouses and defending champions Patna Pirates. The Bulls won their qualifier with ease, and then beat the Gujarat Fortunegiants in the final to claim their maiden title.

Related: Pawan Kumar Sehrawat steals the show as Bengaluru Bulls win their first PKL title


Men's national football team

India's first match of the year produced a 2-1 reverse away to Kyrgyzstan, but it came on the back of successful qualification sealed in 2017 for the 2019 Asian Cup, making the last qualifying match less relevant.

They won the Intercontinental four-nation tournament in Mumbai in June, losing to New Zealand in a league match but beating Kenya twice and Chinese Taipei once. India sent a young team to the SAFF Championships, and won all league matches before narrowly losing to Maldives in the final.

They wound the year down with two draws and a defeat against higher-ranked Asian oppositions, including a 0-0 achieved in the first ever match played on Chinese soil.


Minerva Punjab

A second-division team in Indian football till their maiden season in 2016-17, Minerva Punjab surprised everybody with their title-winning run in the I-League in 2017-18. A team bereft of big stars, their success was based around late goals, physically effective football and five away wins in nine matches played on the road.

This was the first title in national league football for a team from Punjab since JCT's win in the inaugural NFL in 1996-97, and confirmed a place for them in AFC competition for 2019.

Related: Army of champions: Deconstructing the Minerva fairy-tale


Real Kashmir

Founded in the aftermath of the floods that hit Jammu & Kashmir in 2014, Real Kashmir played a national-level tournament for the first time only as recently as 2016. They would go on to script an unlikely win in the I-League second division in 2017-18, making them the first team from Kashmir to feature in 23 years of Indian domestic league football later that year.

They have shown they are no pushovers, staying in title contention right through the season, and as of now, are the only team to have beaten league-leaders Chennai City FC in both their meetings this season.

Related: Un-real Kashmir


Women's 4 x 400m relay team

India had won the women's 4x400m relay at the Asian Games each year since a silver-medal finish in Bangkok in 1998. That record could have been under threat at the 2018 games in Jakarta, especially with Bahrain boasting of World Championships silver-medallist Salwa Eid Naser for their anchor leg.

India tactically outfoxed favourites Bahrain by starting the race with their fastest runner Hima Das, and the gap she was able to open up was maintained by MR Poovamma and Saritaben Gayakwad, before youngster Vismaya Koroth ran the race of her life to stave off Naser and maintain India's streak..

Related: Weak link Vismaya anchors India to relay gold


Women's TT team

Since its introduction into the Commonwealth Games disciplines in 2002, table tennis and specifically its team events have been dominated by Singapore. The Singaporeans won every single gold in this discipline, and India only had a 2010 silver and a bronze from 2006 to show for their efforts... until 2018.

In Sydney, India won five ties on their way to their maiden gold, dropping just two matches en route to the title. They beat Malaysia, England and then Singapore in the knockout stages.

Related: Manika's sleight of backhand gives India historic gold