The journey of Indian football through the years has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. From their golden period of 1950-1960s to the lowest ebb in the early 90s and then again to the highs of being ranked under 100 in the present days, Indian football has come a long way. Through the years, the team has produced some brilliant results and performances, some expected while some unexpected but impressive nonetheless. We pick out 5 of the best performances of the Indian team over the years.
India 1-0 Iran (Final, Asian Games 1951)
At the inaugural Asian Games in 1951, Indian football was on an all-time high. After defeating Indonesia and Afghanistan on the way to final a capacity crowd thronged the National stadium for their encounter against a strong Iran team. Both the President and the Prime Minister were in attendance as India battled hard against the physically dominant Iranians who unlike the Indians had boots to play with.
While the attackers disappointed in the first half, the impenetrable defence comprising Sailen Manna and Chandan Singh stood out and thwarted every Iranian attack. After a goal-less halftime, Jawaharlal Nehru visited the player’s dressing room and asked for the gold medal as a present for the newly independent nation. An inspired Indian team played much better in the 2nd half.
India scored in the 49th minute through Sahu Mewalal, who scored with an excellent volley. India defended their lead valiantly till the end securing the Gold Medal at the first Asian Games.
India 4-2 Australia (Quarter-final, 1956 Melbourne Olympics)
About to face the mighty Hungarians in the pre-quarterfinals, India were handed a boost as the Hungarians withdrew from the tournament amid political unrest back home. At the Quarter-Final, they faced the host nation Australia.
India got off to a blistering start with Neville D’Souza finding the net after nine minutes, Australia equalised in the 17th minute before D’Souza scored his second to put India back in front. But again, India was unable to hold on to the lead as Australia equalised for the second time in the match to go into the half-time level at 2-2.
India started dominating the second half as D’ Souza deservedly secured his hattrick and put India ahead once again. Kittu, the vice-captain, scored one more as India ran away 4-2 winners against the Aussies. India went on to face Yugoslavia in the semis and was defeated despite playing quite well.
India 2-1 South Korea (Final, Asian Games 1962)
Having suffered defeat at the hands of the Koreans in the group stages, India were the underdogs going into the final of the 1962 Asian Games Gold Medal match.
The famed trio of PK-Chuni-Balaram worked together to create India’s first goal as PK finished with an accurate shot past the South Korean goalkeeper. A few minutes later, India scored again this time through Jarnail Singh, who played in an advanced position for the match despite being a central defender by trade.
Koreans did score one in the 85th minute but it was going to be the last goal of the match as India capped off one of the best victories in their footballing history.
India 1-0 United Arab Emirates (Qualifier, World Cup 2002)
When India faced UAE in the World Cup Qualifier for 2002, the situation surrounding Indian football was not looking very good. The hope and expectation from the team were quite low and players were more interested to play for their club teams rather than for the national team.
India’s opponents were armed to the teeth and fully prepared for this encounter. UAE was coached by Henri Michel at that time. The Frenchman had coached Les Bleus to an Olympic Gold medal in 1984 and following it up with a 3rd place finish in World Cup ’86. The UAE team had played friendlies in France, Japan and faced teams like Denmark, Sweden, and Egypt. The only match Sukhwinder Singh’s team played was against local side CIL.
So, everyone expected India to be thrashed by the higher ranked UAE. But everyone except the players who fought valiantly against their more physical and technical opponents. India’s central defence comprising Mahesh Gawli and Dipak Mondal were at their very best keeping the Arabs at bay with some last ditched challenges and blocks.
In the second half, Sukhwinder made a game-turning substitution. Baichung Bhutia was getting increasingly isolated as the lone striker up top. Sukhi brought in veteran IM Vijayan to link Baichung up with India’s deep-lying midfield. And he had an amazing impact on the game showing all the qualities for which he was known as one of the finest footballers of his generation. Soon after coming on, he released Baichung with two marvelous through-balls. It was Vijayan who assisted Jules Alberto’s goal in the 72nd minute. India held on for 18 nervy minutes to snatch away a most unlikely and unexpected victory.
India 4-1 Tajikistan (Final, AFC Challenge Cup)
India’s victory over Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup has to be one of the most significant in the team’s history. This is because, with this victory, India went on to secure their entry into their first AFC Cup after a long wait of 24 years and showed that they are getting closer to challenging the bigger powers of Asian football.
Riding on a Sunil Chhetri hat-trick, and a goal from the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia, India thrashed defending champions Tajikistan 4-1.
India outplayed its Central Asian rival in all departments of the game in the thrilling summit clash of the eight-nation Asia’s second-tier competition.