The Blue Tigers have had a distinguished past in Asian football tournaments.
The crucial victory over Bangladesh has given a ray of hope for Indian football team fans. The Blue Tigers are now en route to AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualification and seem to have a bright future ahead.
In the past too, there have been several instances when the Indian football team stamped its authority in Asia. The team accumulated some memorable records on the way and we take a look at five such unique records by the team over the years:
5. Most games played against single opposition – Pakistan (28)
The rivalry between India and Pakistan has been passed on to football too. The Blue Tigers’ first encounter with their arch-rivals dates back to 1959 in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
Since then, in 28 meetings, the Indian football team have recorded 15 victories, 10 draws and three losses. Their most recent tie was in 2018 in the semi-final of the SAFF Championship. A brace from Manvir Singh gave the Blue Tigers the advantage, while Sumeet Passi put the game to bed in a 3-1 win. Interestingly, India played with 10 men in the final few moments after Lallianzuala Chhangte received a red card.
4. Qualification for FIFA World Cup in 1950
Yes, the Indian football team once qualified for the FIFA World Cup! It was in 1950 when the country earned direct qualification to the tournament in Brazil. Four Asian teams – Myanmar (then Burma), Indonesia, Philippines and India were invited by FIFA. However, the other three withdrew before the qualification round and India automatically qualified.
Yet, at that time, the Blue Tigers played barefoot and FIFA didn’t approve of that for the World Cup. Thus, in the end, India too withdrew from the tournament. Ever since then, the Indian football team have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup.
3. Fourth place finish at 1956 Summer Olympics
India’s haul at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Australia is one to cherish forever. The Blue Tigers were drawn against Hungary in the first round of the tournament. However, the European nation withdrew and the Indian football team qualified for the quarterfinals by virtue of a bye.
In the quarters, the team got the better of hosts Australia 4-2 courtesy a Neville D’souza hat-trick. Having progressed to the semi-final round, India drew the then Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, the Blue Tigers fell to a heavy 4-1 defeat, with D’souza scoring a consolation goal.
That was followed by a match for the bronze medal against Bulgaria. However, the Indian football team were outplayed 3-0 and had to settle for fourth place. Nevertheless, the run up to that finish is certainly a memorable one.
2. Runners-up at AFC Asian Cup 1964
The 1964 edition of the AFC Asian Cup was a rather short one with just four teams participating. India were thus drawn in the solitary group along with hosts Israel, Hong Kong and South Korea. In the first clash, the Blue Tigers eased past South Korea with a 2-0 win.
However, they received a setback in the following game against the hosts. Israel registered a 2-0 victory by virtue of a first half penalty and another goal in the second half. Nevertheless, the Indian football team bounced back with a dominant 3-1 win over Hong Kong in the next. But, Israel’s win over South Korea meant they remained unbeaten in the group and thus clinched the title.
Despite two jubilant wins, the Indian football team had to settle for the runners-up position. Inder Singh, who scored twice in three games, stood as the joint-top scorer of the tournament.
1. Gold medals at 1951 & 1962 Asian Games
The 1950s and 1960s was a brilliant period in history for the Indian football team. Under head coach Syed Abdul Rahim, the team won several prestigious accolades during this time. However, it was the two gold medals in the Asian Games that shone the brightest. The first came at the 1951 Asian Games in New Delhi.
India defeated both Indonesia and Afghanistan by 3-0 margins and progressed to the final comfortably. There, they faced a rather tough opposition in Iran. Sheoo Mewalal struck before half-time for the Blue Tigers. They held on to the lead until the final whistle to claim the prestigious gold medal.
The Indian football team followed it up with another gold in the event a decade later. The Blue Tigers were drawn in the same group as Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Yet, they defied the odds and managed to finish second in the group, defeating Japan and Thailand in the group stage. In the semi-final against South Vietnam, the Blue Tigers played out a thriller in Jakarta.
They emerged 3-2 winners in a closely-fought encounter where late legend Chuni Goswami netted a brace. India faced a mighty South Korea in the final. However, in front of a massive 1,00,000 crowd, the Blue Tigers emerged victorious, thanks to strikes from Jarnail Singh and P.K. Banerjee.