In recent times, Indian football fans have become accustomed to watching the national team lose, and often badly. However, in the past, there have been many glorious wins for the national team, which are on the verge of being forgotten. Most of these wins came at the time when the Indian national team was an Asian powerhouse. Let us take a look at five of India’s best victories in football. Since we are considering only victories here, we will be leaving out India best result of all times, arguably. In 1960 Olympic Games, India drew 1-1 with France. Amazingly, Rahim’s team dominated the Europeans for most of the match and succumbed to a late goal. Full-back Ram Bahadur, one of the best Indian players of all time made an error in the 83rd minutes, and France equalised. Under legendary coach Albert Batteux, French football was enjoying one of their best runs in that decade – they finished 3rd in the 1958 World Cup.
The list is in chronological order.
India 1-0 Iran (Final, Asian Games 1951)
When New Delhi hosted the inaugural Asiad in 1951, expectations were at an all time high. Indian football was just entering its golden age and there was unparalleled public support. India defeated Indonesia and Afghanistan on its way to final. On 10th March, 1951, a capacity crowd thronged the National stadium. The eager spectators included Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. India had dominated each of its opponents before but struggled against the physically robust Iranians in the final. The Iranians wore boots and had an obvious advantage against the barefooted Indians.
Indian attackers were disappointing in first half, with only Ahmed Khan doing some damage. It was the backline which was exceptional with Sailen Manna and Chandan Singh creating an impenetrable wall. Custodian BK Anthony was in inspirational form. His opposite number in the Iranian goal – Agha Husseini was also proving to be unbeatable. After a goal-less halftime, Nehru visited the player’s dressing room, and asked for the gold medal as a present for the newly formed nation. An inspired Indian team played much better in 2nd half.
Mewalal scored in Asian Games final
On the 49th minute mark, the deadlock was finally broken! Right inside forward Runu Guha Thakurata cut back from the wings and launched an inch perfect cross towards Sahu Mewalal. Mewalal jumped and shot an unexpected volley, giving no chance to Iran ‘keeper. India had scored – the capacity crowd broke into raptures.
The Indian players, who won gold medal, achieved superstar status for next few years, but were sadly forgotten by later generations. Mewalal, who scored three goals in three matches in ’51, never received any recognition from the government. These days players often get sports awards for smallest of deeds, while past legends are forgotten.
India 4-2 Australia (Quarter-final, 1956 Melbourne Olympics)
India was a tad lucky to face the Aussies in this match. India was supposed to face invincible Hungary in pre-quarter final but the Eastern Europeans withdrew because of political problems back home. Things were not easy in the quarter-final as India squared off against the hosts.
India got off to a blistering start with Neville D’Souza finding the net after nine minutes, turning in a rebound after captain Samar Banerjee had struck the post. Morrow equalised for Australia in the 17th minute. D’Souza scored a perfect poacher’s goal to put India back in the front after 33 minutes, and then Morrow made it 2-2 after only three minutes with a poacher’s goal of his own. The teams went into the lemon break with the match tied at 2-2.
Neville D’Souza, only Indian to score a hattrick in Olympic football
India completely dominated the 2nd half. Neville D’Souza completed his hattrick with another opportunistic strike. The Caltex man followed up a loose ball and slotted it home. Kittu, the vice-captain, rounded up the scoring with the curling strike on the 80th minute. D’Souza became the first (and only) Indian to score a hattrick in Olympic football. India became the first Asian team to reach semi-final of the Olympics, but they would go on to lose against Yogoslavia in semi-final despite playing well.
India 2-1 South Korea (Final, Asian Games 1962)
Indian football team suffered a lot during the Jakarta Asiad. The chef de mission of India contingent clashed with Indonesian authorities which resulted in the football team being barracked whenever they played. A turbaned Jarnail Singh had to sit on bus’ floor while travelling, in order to stay out of sight from rowdy crowds.
South Korea had defeated India 2-0 in group stages and was red hot favourite for the gold medal. However, Syed Abdul Rahim and his boys were not daunted by the occasion.
Rahim made one controversial change for the final. He dropped Pradyut Burman, exceptional in previous matches, to play just fit Peter Thangaraj in goal. Every touch of the ball taken by Indian footballers was jeered by the partisan crowd. Surprisingly, the only support for the Indians came from the Pakistan hockey team. India was not to be stopped on that day.
The famed trio of PK-Chuni-Balaram worked like pieces of a clock for India’s opener after 17 minutes. Balaram snatched the ball from a Korean defender and slipped it to Chuni Goswami. The captain dribbled past his marker and passed it to PK Banerjee. PK, who was known for his wonderful shooting, made no mistakes whatsoever. Three minutes later, combative midfielder Franco Fortunato aimed his freekick at Jarnail who crashed his left footer into the net. Jarnail, was a centre-back but Rahim took a bold decision to field him as a centre-forward in the semi-final and final of the Asian games. The robust footballer didn’t let his coach down, scoring in both matches.
India completely dominated South Korea for rest of the ninety minutes, but unfortunately could not find the back of the net. Koreans scored in the 85th minute as Thangarj conceded a soft goal. The Indian defence held out in the end capping off one of the most glorious days in Indian football history.
India 1-0 United Arab Emirates (Qualifier, World Cup 2002)
When India faced UAE in the WC qualifier in Bangalore, everything that could have gone wrong was going wrong. Coach Sukhwinder Singh didnt get the luxury to test his team in too many friendly matches. . His playing XI was not set and he could submit a list of only 21 players instead of 25. General public was blissfully unaware of the match and ticket sales weren’t encouraging. The match took place when National Football League was in full swing – Sukhi’s players were more interested in club football than the UAE match.
India’s opponents were armed to the teeth and fully prepared for this enounter. 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. He had also taken teams like Cameroon and Morocco to the World Cup. He was much, much more experienced than Sukhwinder, having managed the likes of Platini and Roger Milla. UAE had begun their preparation ten months before the match took place. They had played friendlies in France, Japan and faced teams like Denmark, Sweden and Egypt. The only match Sukhi’s team played was against local side CIL.
Indian players celebrate Alberto’s goal
Under such circumstances, it was expected that India would follow the often repeated script of getting thrashed by a higher ranked team. Things would however turn out very, very differently.
For once Indian defence stood up strong and undaunted against a Western Asian team. Suhwinder’s infamous defensive tactics came into play in the match. Centre-backs Mahesh Gawli and Dipak Mandal played out of their skins. Khalid Jamil and Rennedy Singh came down to help the defenders. India started with a 4-4-2 formation but switched to a 5-4-1 as the match progressed. Ancheri left the pitch in the first half after getting injured – this was a huge blow. Indian defence still held out strongly against the Arabs.
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 midifield. And what an impact Vijayan had! He showed 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 marvellous through-balls. He almost scored a goal when he magnificently stopped Jamil’s header and took a volley after a trademark turn. 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 3-2 Vietnam (Final, LG Cup 2002)
English coach Steven Constantine’s reign was marred with controversies and problems. However, the victory in LG Cup was unarguably the zenith of his stint. When India won the trophy in Ho Chi Minh City, it had won its first trophy outside the subcontinent since 1974. In 1974, India’s youth team jointly won the Asian Youth Championship held in Teheran. A cup win that was 28 years in the making was obviously sweet, what made it sweeter was the dramatic nature of the final.
Bhutia and Constantine with LG Cup
Hosts Vietnam was cheered on by a thirty thousand crowd and they raced to a 2-0 lead after the first fifteen minutes. Indian defence could be held responsible for both goals. For first goal, Debjit Ghosh and Dipak Mandal failed to provide an aerial clearance, while Ajayan’s lack of pace was brutally exposed for the second one.
At that point it was looking as if all was lost and the Indian NT was staring at another humiliation. Baichung Bhutia, however, thought otherwise. Bhutia, then back from Bury FC, was donning the captain’s armband and he played the role of a leader to perfection.
He scored his first goal on 43rd minute mark with a low drive from a Samir Naik cross. Bhutia silenced the home crowd with another strike in the 59th minute – heading in a corner from Bijen Singh. India’s miraculous comeback was completed by Abhishek Yadav who headed in another Samir Naik cross.
India’s win in LG Cup is comparable to their win in the 1962 Games. In both cases, India had to battle hostile crowds along with teams who were ranked higher. And on both occasions, the team showed brilliant fighting spirit.
Sources: Stories From Indian Football by Jaydip Basu, old newspaper reports.
Do you think the current Indian team will be able to add another result of such stature to this list, in the ongoing Asian Cup ?