7 times Indian football team punched above their weight in international tournaments
With the future looking bright, let us look at India's best performances in International tournaments from the past.
There is a mini-renaissance going on in Indian football. With the FIFA U17 World Cup successfully organised, the AIFF has also submitted its bid to host the 2019 U20 World Cup. There is a constant improvement in the team's world rankings. Also, the 2019 AFC Asian cup is on the radar.
I choose to say 'renaissance' because India has seen some glory days in the international arena of football in the past. Our football team constantly punched above its weight till 1970. One can argue that luck was a huge factor those days. Sometimes, the opponents withdrew and many teams didn't participate due to tough situations.
We all know how India had decided against participating in the 1950 World cup. Despite facing many problems like funds shortage, India still played in many, if not all the tournaments. And as the saying goes 'fortune favors the brave'. Let us look at the 7 instances when India performed well ahead of expectations in international tournaments.
1948 London Olympics
This was independent India's first international tournament. The Olympics were held after 12 years and it was the first major global tournament of football post-WWII, with the last World Cup being held in 1938. There were no qualification process. India, along with 22 other teams had shown interest to be a part of the tournament, which had 16 places up for grabs. Out of these 23, nine higher ranked teams were automatically placed in the first round, and the rest 14 had to qualify via the playoffs, with India being one of them. India were pitted against Burma (now Myanmar).
But Burma withdrew and India got a bye to the first round, where they were up against France. The match was played on 31st July, 1948 in front of a crowd of approximately 17000 in the Cricketfield stadium, Ilford. Most of the Indian players chose to play barefoot, and it was the curiosity to watch a match of shoes vs barefoot that attracted a seemingly large crowd. The chosen ones to represent India in this historic match were:
Line up: K. Varadaraj (GK), Taj Mohammed, Saliendra Manna, Basheer, Talimeran AO (C), Mahabir Prasad, Robi Das, Balaram Parab Ramachandra, Sahu Mewalal, Ahmed Mohamed Khan, Sarangapani Raman
Substitutes: Anil Nandy, B. Vajravelu, K. Dhanraj, Papen, S. Nandy, S. Kaiser, Sanjeeva Uchil
Coach: Balaidas Chatterjee (Ind)
India played a 2-3-5 formation. The first blood was drawn by France in the 30th minute courtesy a goal from Rene Courbin. But India struck back in the 70th minute with a goal from Sarangapani Raman. The Indian team was giving a tough competition to the French, which frustrated them. It showed on the field, as they conceded two penalties.
But surprisingly, both of them were missed by India. It came to haunt them later as a last gasp goal by Rene Persillon in the 89th minute was enough for the French to cling-on to a hard-fought victory. Although India lost the match, but the team's play was lauded by all. Had those two chances been taken, the story of Indian football might have taken a different route, but it was not to be.