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World Cup 2018: The history of Indian football team in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

The history of Indian football team in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
Will India qualify for the FIFA World Cup one day?
Abhishek Kundu

The 2018 edition of FIFA World Cup will run from 14 June to 15 July in Russia across 11 cities and 12 stadia. Some of the world's greatest footballers will display their skills and look forward to bring home the trophy. Moreover, Indians will enthusiastically watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup despite their team failing to qualify.

However, there is one obvious question which strikes the minds of all the Indians. Why didn't India qualify? Well, this question only revolves around their brains before the start of the tournament. As the tournament progresses, they forget about it and become staunch patriots of some other country.

We shouldn't blame the viewers. The Indian football team isn't skillful enough at the moment to take part in the football extravaganza. But then, how did they bow out to the skilled ones?

Here, we present before you the history of Indian football team in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Also Read: Intercontinental Cup 2018- The Unpicked Indian Football Team


1950 FIFA World Cup

1950 FIFA World Cup
There is a legend that India didn't participate in the 1950 World Cup due to its refusal to play with shoes

The 1950 Jules Rimet Cup is the only FIFA World Cup where India qualified. So, how far did we go? Well, India had qualified but refused to participate.

The World Cup participation was offered on a platter after other Asian nations withdrew. The Brazilians were so adamant to have representation from all the continents that they even offered the AIFF to bear most of the expenses. However, the AIFF decided otherwise and refused to send the team citing "disagreements over team selection, and insufficient practice time."

There are various legends surrounding India's refusal. One such myth is India refused to play with shoes. They caught the world's attention by finishing fourth at the 1948 Olympic Games playing barefoot. But, FIFA demanded them to play with shoes at the World Cup.

Now, playing barefoot was just one of the many reasons. The 1950 World Cup lacked the allure that it has nowadays. There was also the fear that if India participated in the World Cup, their players would become professionals. In those days, only amateur sportspersons could participate in the Olympics, and if they had taken part in the World Cup, they wouldn't be eligible.

If India had participated, they would have been placed in Group III alongside Sweden, Italy, and Paraguay. Moreover, we could have bragged about playing against the defending champions Italy. But, as that is not the case, we can only lament at the AIFF's decision.

1986 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

1986 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
Sudip Chatterjee (right) led India at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

In the 1954 World Cup qualifiers, FIFA didn't accept India's entry. And from 1958 to 1982, India didn't enter their names in the World Cup qualifiers. So, it wasn't until 21 March 1985 that India had played its first official FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

The Asian zone was only allocated 2 places in the final tournament. The 27 participating teams would be divided into 2 zones and there would be three rounds of qualifiers.

In the first round, the teams were divided into 4 groups of 3 or 4 teams each. The teams would play against each other on a home-and-away basis with the group winners advancing to the second round.

India was grouped alongside Indonesia, Thailand, and Bangladesh. The Blue Tigers opened their campaign with a 2-1 loss to Indonesia away. They would go on to hold Thailand 0-0 and defeat Bangladesh 1-2 in their subsequent away matches. In the home fixtures, India was held 1-1 by Indonesia and Thailand and defeated Bangladesh 2-1 at the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta.

In those days, 2 points were given to the winner and 1 point if the game finished in a draw. As a result, Indonesia finished at the top spot with 9 points and India second with 7 points. That was how far the Blue Tigers could go.

1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

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VP Sathyan led India at the 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

India again withdrew itself from the 1990 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. But, they hadn't backed down from the 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and decided to participate.

A total of 30 teams took part in the qualifiers and FIFA only granted 2 spots in the final tournament. This year, however, there would be only two rounds.

In the first round, the 30 teams were divided into 6 groups of 5 teams each with the teams playing against each other twice. Whosoever would win their group would advance to the final round.

India was placed in Group D alongside South Korea, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Hong Kong. From 7 May 1993 to 15 May 1993, India played four matches against the aforementioned teams in Beirut. India would draw with Lebanon 2-2 in their opening encounter but lose 1-2, 0-3, and 1-2 to Hong Kong, South Korea, and Bahrain respectively in their subsequent matches.

From 5 June 1993 to 13 June 1993, the reverse fixtures would be played in Seoul. In it, India lost 3-0 to Bahrain, 7-0 to South Korea, and 2-1 to Lebanon. However, they finished the tournament with a 3-1 victory over Hong Kong.

With only 1 draw and 1 win, India had performed pathetically and finished with just 3 points. Moreover, they finished at the bottom, and South Korea topped the group with 15 points.

1998 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

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I M Vijayan was an important member of the 1998 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

FIFA had increased their main tournament entries to 32 with 3.5 places being allocated to AFC. A total of 36 teams had participated in it, and three rounds were held to determine the qualifiers.

In the first round, the 36 teams were divided into 10 groups of 3 or 4 teams each with the group winners advancing to the final round. As far as India was concerned, they were grouped alongside Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Qatar.

All the matches were played at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha from 20 September 1996 to 27 September 1996. India started the campaign with a 2-0 victory over the Philippines thanks to two late goals from IM Vijayan and Bruno Coutinho. However, India had failed to keep on the momentum and drew 1-1 with Sri Lanka, and suffered a 6-0 drubbing in the hands of Qatar.

The results meant India finished third on the group with just 4 points. Qatar, with 9 points, progressed to the next round.

2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

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The 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers was the best one for India

The 2002 FIFA World Cup was a special one as it was the first time the World Cup was being organized in Asia. FIFA reserved 4.5 spots for the Asian nations. However, Japan and South Korea were granted automatic qualification to the FIFA World Cup as they were the co-hosts. As a result, only 2.5 spots were left for the 39 competing Asian nations.

The qualification format saw two rounds of a play with an additional round between the runners-up to determine who would advance to the UEFA/AFC Intercontinental Play-off. At the first stage, the 39 teams were divided into 9 groups of 4 teams each, and 1 group of 3 teams. The teams played against each other twice, and the group winner advanced to the second round.

India was grouped alongside UAE, Yemen, and Brunei in Group 8. In their opening fixture, they defeated UAE 1-0 thanks to a 71-minute strike from Jules Alberto. However, they failed to continue their form in their next three games drawing 1-1 to Yemen, losing 1-0 to UAE, and drawing 3-3 with Yemen. In the subsequent two games against Brunei, they won 1-0 away and 5-0 at home.

Despite a wonderful performance, they finished third with 11 points. UAE finished first with 12 points and advanced to the next stage. Even Yemen finished ahead of us despite having the same points and same goal difference. This was because they scored 14 goals in the tournament and India 11. Looking back at all the previous World Cup qualifying campaigns, this was arguably India's best one.

2006 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

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Bhaichung Bhutia was at his peak in the World Cup qualifiers but failed to guide so

FIFA again reserved 4.5 spots for the Asian nations but this time all of them were up for grabs. A total of 39 AFC affiliated teams competed for those spots with three rounds being held. Moreover, this was the first time that India progressed to the second round thanks to a first-round bye.

In the second round, only 32 teams had been left who were divided into 8 groups of four teams each. India was grouped in Group 3 alongside Japan, Singapore, and Oman.

India started the tournament on a positive note with a 1-0 win over Singapore. However, they performed poorly later with a 1-5 loss to Oman at home, 0-7 loss to Japan away from home, 0-4 loss to Japan at home, and a 0-2 loss to Singapore away from home. India would wrap the final game of the tournament with a 0-0 draw with Oman.

This was again a pathetic tournament for the Indian team as they finished third with just 4 points. The Japanese advanced to the second round and even went on to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

Bob Houghton was put in charge for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
Bob Houghton was put in charge for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

The 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers had 4.5 spots for grabs for the 43 AFC affiliated teams. Moreover, this was the first time Australia attempted to qualify for the World Cup as a member of the AFC. This year there were four rounds with an additional round to determine who would represent AFC at the AFC-OFC Intercontinental Play-Off.

In the first round, India was randomly paired with Lebanon to play a home-and-away fixture. In the away fixture at Saida International Stadium, Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead but India lost the game 4-1. In the reverse fixture, India managed a 2-2 draw with goals coming from Sunil Chhetri and Steven Dias.

Lebanon won 6-3 on aggregate and advanced to the next round.

2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

Armando Colaco was entrusted with the job of guiding India at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
Armando Colaco was entrusted with the job of guiding India at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

The 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers again had 4.5 spots for grabs for the 43 AFC affiliated teams. Moreover, India had received a bye in the first round and qualified for the second round as they were ranked 27th at that time in Asia.

They were randomly paired with the 10th-seeded United Arab Emirates in the second round for a home-and-away fixture. In the away fixture, they lost 3-0 to the United Arab Emirates. In the home fixture at Ambedkar Stadium, they drew 2-2 with the United Arab Emirates thanks to goals from Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gouramangi Singh.

The United Arab Emirates won 5-2 on aggregate and advanced to the next round.

2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

Stephen Constantine era began witht the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers
Stephen Constantine era began with the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers again had 4.5 spots for grabs for the AFC affiliated nations. However, this year, India didn't receive a bye because of their poor rankings. They were randomly paired with Nepal for a home-and-away fixture.

In the home fixture at Guwahati, two sublime strikes from Sunil Chhetri gave India a 2-0 victory over Nepal. In the away fixture, India drew 0-0 with Nepal and qualified for the second round.

In the second round, the 40 qualified teams were divided into 8 groups of five teams each. They would play amongst themselves in a double round robin format with 8 group winners and 4 best second-placed teams advancing to the next round. India was placed in Group D alongside Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan, and Guam.

India started poorly with a 1-2 loss to Oman at home. They would continue their poor form with a 1-2 loss to Guam away from home, 0-3 loss to Iran at home, 1-2 loss to Turkmenistan at home, and a 3-0 loss to Oman at home. After five successive losses, India won their first game 1-0 against Guam at home. However, they had failed to continue their winning run and lost 0-4 to Iran away from home, and 1-2 to Turkmenistan at home.

That was how India's road to Russia ended. Other than the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, India performed poorly in every tournament. Nonetheless, let's hope India performs better in the subsequent editions and one day India qualifies for the FIFA World Cup.

Edited by Amar Anand

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