The Indian Football Team is a national football team representing the nation of India in the sport of football. The team works under the aegis of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) which is headed by the politician Praful Patel.
The AIFF was founded in 1937 and was affiliated to the FIFA in 1948. Stephen Constantine is the current coach of the men’s national football team and Rocky Maymol is the coach of the women’s national football team.
Sunil Chhetri is the captain of the men’s side whereas Ngangom Bala Devi is the women’s counterpart.
The British introduced football in a number of countries which they ruled in history. India were one of the earliest places where the British introduced football. The British soldiers played football matches with the locals in the late 1850’s and the earliest record of a football match taking place is in 1854 between Calcutta Club of Civilians and Gentlemen of Barrackpore.
The Durand Cup, which was inaugurated in 1888 is the fourth oldest existing football tournament in the world. The earliest example of the Indians showcasing their talent in football was in 1911 when Mohun Bagan beat East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 to win the IFA Shield.
Independent India played their first football match at the 1948 Olympics in London. They met France in the opening round. The Europeans scored the opening goal in the contest. But the Indian players who were playing barefoot and were buoyed by the crowd soon equalised. However, India missed a couple of penalties and were dealt a blow when Rene Persillon snatch a winner in the dying embers of the game.
India were invited to be a part of the 1950 FIFA World Cup after a number of countries withdrew from the qualifiers. Remarkably, India after qualifying, refused to participate in the tournament. The AIFF gave reasons like travel costs and importance of Olympics over World Cup for their refusal. But it is believed in wide quarters that India refused to participate since FIFA did not entertain their plea to allow their players to play barefoot. Since then, India have not come close to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.
Despite this setback, India went onto enjoy the most glorious years in its footballing history in the next 15 years. India won the gold medal in the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games. They also finished fourth in the 1956 Olympics. The architect of this success was the coach Syed Abdul Rahim.
Rahim led India to their first triumph in the 1951 Asian Games which was hosted in India. India beat Iran 1-0 in the final with the goal being scored by Sahu Mewalal.
The following year, India failed to make progress in the Olympics after losing 10-1 to Yugoslavia in the first round. After this, AIFF made it mandatory for players to wear boots while playing.
India returned to the 1954 Asian Games as defending champions but failed to proceed beyond the group stage.
Two years later, India pulled off their best ever finish at the Olympics when they finished fourth. They lost the third-place playoff 0-3 to Bulgaria. The tournament is much remembered for Neville D’Souza’s hattrick against Australia in the quarter-finals. It was the first hat-trick scored by an Asian in the Olympics.
India then participated in the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo where they finished fourth again. India participated in the qualifiers for the 1960 AFC Asian Cup but failed to qualify for the main tournament. Despite this setback, the team won gold medal in the Asian Games for the second time in 1962 by beating South Korea in the final 2-1.
In 1964, India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup after other countries declined from participating. They finished as runners-up in the tournament, losing to hosts Israel by two points. This remains India’s highest finish in the tournament.
India’s performance in the football field started declining soon after. After failing to proceed from the group stage in the 1966 Asian Games, they finished third in the 1970 edition.
They lost all their games in the 1974 Asian Games. The team was knocked out in the second round of the 1978 tournament. In the 1982 Asian Games, India lost to Saudi Arabia in the quarter-finals.
Although India lost their foothold in Asian football, they still exerted their dominance in South Asia. India won the inaugural SAFF Championship in 1993. They won the tournament again in 1997 and 1999.
In 2003, India participated in the Afro-Asian Games held in Hyderabad. Under Stephen Constantine, India beat Zimbabwe, a side ranked 85 places above India in the FIFA rankings en route to the final. They lost the final to Uzbekistan U21 0-1.
In 2007, India won the Nehru Cup after beating Syria 1-0 in the final under tutelage of Bob Houghton. Houghton then led India to the AFC Challenge Cup which they won beating Tajikistan 4-1 in the final. Sunil Chhetri scored a hattrick. As a result, India qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
India were drawn with Australia, South Korea and Bahrain in Group C of the tournament. They bowed out of the tournament after failing to win any of their games.
India won the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup with ease despite Houghton replacing many of the old legs of the team with fresh faces.
But under new coach Savio Medeira, India had the worst AFC Challenge Cup in March 2012 after they lost all the three group stage matches and failed to score a goal.
Wim Koevermans was installed as manager and India won the 2012 Nehru Cup. But Koevermans failed to take the side to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and also ended up losing to Afghanistan 0-1 in the final of the SAFF Championship.
India reached their lowest FIFA ranking of 173 in March 2015. Stephen Constantine was rehired as coach of the national side. The side went out of contention for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the second round of Asian qualifying round.
Despite this failure, India managed to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup after a 4-1 victory over Macau.
Under Constantine, India reached their highest FIFA ranking since February 1996 when they were ranked 96 in July 2017. India also managed a 13-match unbeaten streak under Constantine which ended with a 1-2 loss to Kyrgyz Republic in the final group stage game of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
India’s men’s national side is currently ranked 97th in the FIFA Rankings. The women’s team ranks 60th according to the latest rankings.