History of the India national football team
The history of the India national football team dates back to the 1920s. They have never played in the World Cup, although they qualified for one in 1950. They have had no entries in the tournament from 1950 onwards. India have never won the final of the Asian Championship but managed their best ever finish by making it to the final in the 1964 AFC Asian Cup. They have only made three appearances since then
The first known official international tour of the Indian team which at that time consisted of both Indian and British players was in 1924, when it was led by legendary Indian footballer Gostha Paul. Football teams consisting of entirely Indian players started to tour Australia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand during the late 1930s. The first international match India played before independence is yet to be verified, but the very trace of it can be found in the match India played overseas against Ceylon in 1933. It was India's second international tour, where Gostha Paul led his side to victory by 1–0 score. On 4 July 1936 India played against visiting Chinese team, which was held at Calcutta. The match was a draw of 1–1. After the success of several Indian football clubs abroad, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was formed in 1937.
In July 1938, Indian team led by K. Bhattacharya, played a international charity match against a visiting all European team at Calcutta, where the European side won by a solitary goal. In the same year, India made a long official tour on invitation by Australian Football Association, from August to October where they played 17 matches against many states, districts, club teams and 5 friendly matches against the Australian national side too. The Indian side was managed by Pankaj Gupta and led by K Bhattacharya and the team was considered as an attacking side, consisted of A Rahim, Pram Lal, R Leemsder,Jumma Khan, C Robello, B Sen, Lumsden, Noor Mohammed, A Nandi, K Prosad, who was dubbed as "Mickey the mouse" by the Australian media for his skills and electric speed at the right wing and the goal was kept by K.Dutt. After playing some matches against state and district teams, on 3 September at Sydney, India played the first friendly match against Australia and got defeated by 5–3 and the match is considered as India's first FIFA-recognised match. Second match was at Brisbane, where the Indians fought back for a draw of 4–4. In the third match at Newcastle, on 17 September India registered their first win by a margin of 4–1. But the Australians defeated India in the next two matches held at Sydney and Melbourne with a score line of 5–4 and 3–1 respectively. At the Sydney match on 24 September, Indian striker Lumsden scored the first hat-trick for India against the Australian side which includes a penalty kick.
On their way to 1948 London Olympics, Chinese team again visited India, where they played Mohammedan SC, East Bengal, and Mohun Bagan then finally on 17 July 1948, a friendly match held at Kolkata, where they were defeated by the Indian national side by a score of 1–0. The 1948 London Olympics was India's first major international tournament, where a predominately barefooted Indian team lost 2–1 to France, failing to convert two penalties. The Indian team was greeted and appreciated by the crowd for their sporting manner. "The French had been given a run for their money – and that, too, by the barefooted Indians!", the British media expressed. At a press conference, shortly after, the Indians were asked why they played barefooted. The ever witty then Indian captain Talimeren Ao said, "Well, you see, we play football in India, whereas you play BOOTBALL!" which was applauded by the British. The next day, that comment was splashed in the newspapers of London.
The decision of wearing shoes had to make and the Indians finally settled on wearing shoes if the conditions were wet (rainy) and if they had to play on soft grounds and when the conditions were dry, most players opted to play without shoes and instead wore bandages to protect their feet though fine weather, out of 11 players who took the field eight players were bootless and three were in boots. Sarangapani Raman scored the only goal for India in that match and thus the first Indian international goal ever in the Olympics.
While the 1-2 loss to France and first round elimination was a huge disappointment to the team and the public alike, the quality of football that the team displayed had captivated one and all. Indian footballers’ bravery and brilliance in bare feet at the 1948 Olympics earned them no less a fan than Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II. So much so that King George VI invited the team to Buckingham Palace and there, as the story goes, he lifted up Sailen Manna's trouser leg, telling him it was just to check if the Indian really had legs of steel as would appear from the strength of his shots! But there was football still to be played. Encouraged by the accolades and the positive reception to India's football, the AIFF decided to extend the tour with some friendlies across Europe. Over the next several weeks the team would play some matches that would only enhance its growing reputation.
In the Netherlands India lost 1-2 against Sparta Rotterdam but stunned Ajax Amsterdam led by legendary Rinus Michels by 5-1, two days later. Back in England and Wales, it put together a string of victories over several teams including Boldmere St. Michaels F.C., which it met on a muddy pitch at Church Road Ground on 31 August 1948, a day with heavy rainfall. The Indian team was forced to wear boots and a lone goal from B.N. Vajravelu handed India a 1−0 win, with this ended the Europe tour of 1948, a great summer for Indian football history.
1950s to 1960sEdit
In 1950, India managed to qualify for the 1950 FIFA World Cup finals, which was scheduled to take place in Brazil; where it was drawn with Sweden, Italy, and Paraguay. This was not due to any success on the pitch, but due to the fact that all their opponents during the qualifying round, withdrew from the pre-tournament qualifiers. However, India themselves withdrew from the World Cup finals before the tournament was to begin. The All India Football Federation gave various reasons for the team's withdrawal, including travel costs, lack of practice time, and valuing the Olympics above the World Cup.
Despite the reason given out from the AIFF, many football historians and pundits have repeated the tale that India withdrew from the World Cup due to FIFA imposing a rule banning players from playing barefoot. However, according to the then captain of India, Sailen Manna, the story of the team not being allowed to play due to wanting to play barefoot was not true. Since then, India has not come close to qualifying for another World Cup.
Despite not participating in the World Cup in 1950, the following years after, from 1951 to 1964, are usually considered to be the "golden era" of Indian football. India, coached by Hyderabad City Police head coach Syed Abdul Rahim, became one of the best teams in Asia. In March 1951, Rahim lead India to their first ever triumph during the 1951 Asian Games. Hosted in India, the team defeated Iran 1–0 in the gold medal match to gain their first trophy. Sahu Mewalal scored the winning goal for India in that match. The next year India went back to the Olympics but were once again defeated in the first round, this time by Yugoslavia and by a score of 10–1. Upon returning to India, the AIFF made it mandatory for footballers to wear boots. After taking the defeat in Finland, India participated in various minor tournaments, such as the Colombo Cup, which they won three times from 1953 to 1955.
In 1954, India returned to the Asian Games as defending champions in Manila. Despite their achievement three years prior, India were unable to go past the group stage as the team finished second in Group C during the tournament, two points behind Indonesia. Two years later, during the 1956 Summer Olympics, India went on to achieve the team's greatest result in a competitive tournament. The team finished in fourth place during the Summer Olympics football tournament, losing the bronze-medal match to Bulgaria 3–0. The tournament is also known for Neville D'Souza's hat-trick against Australia in the quarterfinals. D'Souza's hat-trick was the first hat-trick scored by an Asian in Olympic history and he was the highest goal scorer in that edition of the games along with Todor Veselinović of Yugoslavia and Dimitar Milanov of Bulgaria, 4 goals scored by each.
After their good performance during the Summer Olympics, India participated in the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo. The team once again finished fourth, losing the bronze-medal match to Indonesia 4–1. The next year the team traveled to Malaysia where they took part in the Merdeka Cup and finished as the tournament runners-up.
India began the 1960s with 1960 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Despite the qualifiers for the West Zone being held in Kochi, India finished last in their qualification group and thus failed to qualify for the tournament. Despite the set-back, India went on to win the gold medal during the Asian Games for the second time in 1962. The team defeated South Korea 2–1 to win their second major championship.
To qualify for the 1960 Summer Olympics, India took part in the qualification round where in the first round, they defeated Afghanistan in the 1st leg by 5–2, and withdrew from the 2nd, India proceeded to the second round where they defeated Indonesia in both legs by 4–2 & 2–0, they qualified for 1960 Summer Olympics which is their last till now. At that edition, India again failed to proceed from the first round, where they saw two defeats of 2–1 & 3–1 by Hungary, Peru and a draw against France of 1–1.
Two years later, following their Asian Games triumph, India participated in the 1964 AFC Asian Cup after all the other teams in their qualification group withdrew. This was India's first Asian Cup appearance. Despite their automatic entry into the continental tournament, India managed to finish as the runners-up during the tournament, losing out to the hosts, Israel, by two points. This remains India's best performance in the AFC Asian Cup. India returned to the Asian Games in 1966. Despite their performance two years prior during the AFC Asian Cup, India could not go beyond the group stage as the team finished third, behind Japan and Iran.
Four years later to 1966 Asian Games, India participated at the 1970 Asian Games, where they came back and took third place during the tournament. The team defeated Japan 1–0 during the bronze-medal match.
In 1974, India's performance in the Asian Games once again sharply declined as they finished the 1974 edition in last place in their group, losing all three matches, scoring two, and conceding 14 goals in the first round. India then showed steady improvement during the 1978 tournament, finishing second in their group of three. The team were then knocked-out in the next round, finishing last in their group with three defeats from three matches. The 1982 tournament proved to be better for India as the side managed to qualify for the quarter-finals before losing to Saudi Arabia 1–0.
In 1984, India managed to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since their second place triumph in 1964. During the 1984 tournament, India finished in last place in their five team group in the first round. India's only non-defeat during the tournament came against Iran, a 0–0 draw.
Despite India's decline from a major football power in Asia, the team still managed to assert its dominance as the top team in South Asia. India managed to win the football competition of the South Asian Games in 1985 and then again won the gold medal in 1987. The team then began the 1990s by winning the inaugural SAFF Championship in 1993. The team ended the 20th century by winning the SAFF Championship again in 1997 and 1999.
India's first competitive matches of the 21st century were the 2002 FIFA World Cup first round qualifiers. Despite a very bright start, defeating the United Arab Emirates 1–0, drawing Yemen 1–1, as well as two victories over Brunei, including a 5–0 victory in Bangalore, India finished a point away from qualification for the next round. In 2003, India took part in the 2003 SAFF Championship. The team qualified for the semi-finals but fell to Bangladesh 2–1.
Later in 2003, India participated in the Afro-Asian Games being held in Hyderabad. Under the coaching of Stephen Constantine, India managed to make it to the final of the tournament after defeating Zimbabwe, a team ranked 85 places above India in the FIFA rankings at the time, 5–3. Despite the major victory, during the gold-medal match India were defeated 1–0 by Uzbekistan U21. Due to this achievement, Constantine was voted as the Asian Football Confederation's Manager of the Month for October 2003. The tournament result also gave India more recognition around the country and around the world.
Constantine was replaced by Syed Nayeemuddin in 2005 but the Indian head coach only lasted for a little over a year as India suffered many heavy defeats during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. During this time India were defeated 6–0 by Japan, 3–0 by Saudi Arabia and Yemen respectively at home, and 7–1 away in Jeddah. Former Malmö and China coach Bob Houghton was brought in as head coach in May 2006.
Under Houghton, India witnessed massive improvement in their football standing. In August 2007, Houghton won the country the restarted Nehru Cup after India defeated Syria 1–0 in the final. Pappachen Pradeep scored the winning goal for India that match. The next year, Houghton lead India during the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, which was hosted in Hyderabad and Delhi. During the tournament, India breezed through the group stage before defeating Myanmar in the semi-finals. In the final against Tajikistan, India, through a Sunil Chhetri hat-trick, won the match 4–1. The victory not only earned India the championship but it also allowed India to qualify for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the nation's first Asian Cup appearance in 27 years. In order to prepare for the Asian Cup, Houghton had the team stay together as a squad for eight months from June 2010 till the start of the tournament, meaning the players would not play for their clubs.
India were drawn into Group C for the Asian Cup with Australia, South Korea, and Bahrain. Despite staying together as a team for eight months, India lost all three of their matches during the Asian Cup, including a 4–0 defeat to Australia. Despite the results, India were still praised by fans and pundits for their valiant efforts during the tournament.
AFC Asian CupEdit
In 2011, India started off their campaign by participating in 2011 AFC Asian Cup for which they qualified after 24 years. They were placed in strong Group C along with South Korea, Australia and Bahrain. India lost all three matches but did manage to perform well in patches. Goalkeeper Subrata Pal won a lot of accolades for his performances.
|10 January 2011||India||0 – 4||Australia||Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha|
|16:15||Cahill 11', 65'
Referee: Ali Al Badwawi (UAE)
|14 January 2011||Bahrain||5 – 2||India||Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha|
|19:15||Aaish 8' (pen.)
Abdullatif 16', 19', 36', 77'
Referee: Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh (Malaysia)
|18 January 2011||South Korea||4 – 1||India||Al Gharafa Stadium, Doha|
|16:15||Ji Dong-Won 6'
Koo Ja-Cheol 9'
Ji Dong-Won 23'
Son Heung-Min 81'
|Chhetri 12' (pen.)||Attendance: 11,366|
Referee: Khalil Al Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia)
After 2011 Asia CupEdit
After participating the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, India's quest to qualify for the 2015 edition of the tournament began in February 2011 with AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. Bob Houghton decided to change the makeup of the India squad, replacing many of the aging players from the Asian Cup with some young players from the AIFF development side in the I-League, Indian Arrows. Even with a young side, India managed to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup with ease. Despite the good result though with a young side, the AIFF decided to terminate the contract of Bob Houghton. India played its first match in 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualification on 21 March winning 3–0 against Chinese Taipei, with Jewel Raja Shaikh, Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua scoring the goals. On 23 March they faced Pakistan. India came from behind and defeated Pakistan 3–1 with Jeje Lalpekhlua scoring 2 goals and Steven Dias scoring one. On 25 March they faced Turkmenistan in their last 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifying game and. India drew the game 1–1. The result meant that they finished on top of Group B and qualified for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup. After having Dempo coach, Armando Colaco, as interim head coach, the AIFF signed Savio Medeira as head coach in October 2011. Despite leading India to another SAFF Championship victory, Medeira lead India to their worst performance in the AFC Challenge Cup in March 2012. The team lost all three of their group matches, unable to score a single goal during the tournament. After the tournament, Medeira was replaced as head coach by Dutchman, Wim Koevermans. Koeverman's first job as head coach was the 2012 Nehru Cup. India won their third successive Nehru Cup, defeating Cameroon side on penalties. By March 2015, after not playing any matches, India reached their lowest FIFA ranking position of 173. A couple months prior, Stephen Constantine was re-hired as the head coach after first leading India more than a decade before. Constantine's first major assignment back as the India head coach were the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. After making it through the first round of qualifiers, India crashed out during the second round, losing seven of their eight matches and thus, once again, failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Despite failure to qualify for the World Cup, India managed to reach the third round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers after defeating Laos in the play-off round on aggregate 7–1. On 11 October 2017, India secured qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup after a 4–1 victory over Macau.
Though defeated at 2018 SAFF Championship final by 1–2 to Maldives in September 2018, India regained the momentum with some friendlies against China, Jordan and Oman as they began the 2019 AFC Asian Cup with a 4–1 victory against Thailand and is the biggest ever Asia cup win for the team and its first one in 55 years. Nevertheless, they lost both of their next two group matches against UAE and Bahrain by 0−2 and 0−1 respectively and finished at the bottom of the group, thus failed to move to knock out stage. Stephen Constantine immediately resigned from his position as head coach following the failure to progress further in the tournament .
|6 January Asian Cup G.S.||Thailand||1–4||India||Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates|
|19:00 IST||Dangda 33'||AFC AIFF||Chhetri 27' (pen.), 46'
|Stadium: Al Nahyan Stadium|
Referee: Liu Kwok Man (Hong Kong)
|10 January Asian Cup G.S.||India||0–2||United Arab Emirates||Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates|
|21:30 IST||AFC AIFF||Khalf. Mubarak 41'
|Stadium: Zayed Sports City Stadium|
Referee: César Arturo Ramos (Mexico)
The India national team plays in blue, the colour of the Ashoka Chakra on the Indian flag. The other colours on the flag, saffron, white, and India green, were deemed too controversial to be used as the main colour, as jerseys with saffron and green are often used by neighbouring countries. Blue as the national colour for India was soon made more prominent due to the success of the India cricket team and field hockey teams. The football team, however, has used some sort of shade of blue for decades.
The national team kits and uniforms have evolved as the game has over the years and in recent times new technologies have been utilised to improve the kits and uniforms. At the turn of the 21st century, India wore a sky blue shirt with black pants and sky blue socks as their kit. In 2002, the All India Football Federation signed a deal with German manufacturer Adidas to produce the India kit. The first kit made by Adidas was all-white. After four years with Adidas, the AIFF signed an agreement with American company Nike on 27 February 2006. The deal was for seven years. Nike's first kits for India were in darker blue while the away kit was changed from white to orange. For the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, in which India were participating, Nike designed India's kit using the same template it used for other national teams such as Brazil. In January 2013. it was announced that the AIFF's deal with Nike was extended for an extra five years. Nike made a simplistic kit in 2006 with a light blue shirt with a little shade of white on the shirt and white short. The 2009-10 Nike kit was a throwback to the 2006-07 kit but the blue colour got a bit darker and they experimented with horizontal stripes for the first time in 2013. In September 2017, prior to the India U17 side's participation in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Nike unveiled an all sky blue kit for the India senior and youth teams. Inspired by the history and heritage of the Blue Tigers, India’s latest Nike national team kit features a new shade of blue and an orange stripe that runs the length of the jersey and shorts. That stripe expands when a player is in motion to maximize ventilation, complementing Nike’s proprietary Dri-FIT technology that helps draw sweat away from the body. These features allow players to perform at their best by remaining cool, dry and more comfortable.
A year later, on 17 December 2018, it was announced that Indian manufacturer Six5Six would replace Nike as India's kit maker. In becoming India's new kit makers, Six5Six also became the first manufacturer to pay for the rights to produce India kits, after both Nike and Adidas didn't pay. Six5Six unveiled their first jersey for the team before the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, with the home colour had a similar sky blue shade and the away colour was changed to white from orange but both the jerseys had unique design embellished on the sleeves representing tiger stripes to pay homage to the Indian football fans, who affectionately calls the team "Blue Tigers", where as the goalkeeper's jersey replaced the light green to orange colour with the same sleeves design.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to India national football team kits.|
In the early 19th century when the Indian football was taking shape, India produced one of the best footballers from Asia at that time, Gostha Pal, who started playing professional football at the age of 16 in 1911 and was the first captain of Indian team. He was a skilled, tactful and composed defender of his time and considered as the best defender India had ever produced. He was the first footballer to be awarded Padma Shree in the year 1962 and in 1998 Government of India introduced postal stamp to honour the legend.
In the later 1930s, India came out to be one of the strongest attacking teams from Asia, evidenced during their winter tour of Australia in 1938, where the attacking Indian side including Lumsden, Noor Mohammed, Rahim, K.Prosad, A Nandi under the leadership of K.Bhattacharya stormed the New South Wales coast with a total of 58 goals in 17 matches, which includes five international friendlies against Australia, where Lumsden scored three hat-tricks, one being against the Australian side, thus scoring the first international hat-trick for India.
Talimeren Ao, the first captain of Indian team in independent India was the pioneer of Indian football. His skills in football was glorified as his name which means "a lot of glory" and his legacy is one of the reason for North-east India to be one of the power house of Indian football. At a very young age, dribbling improvised balls made out of rags, cane-strips or pomelos as a real football was hard to come by, gradually improved his skills as defensive midfielder which was frustrating for opponent team strikers. He was asked to join the national colour and was unanimously given the responsibility of leading the team at 1948 Olympics, India's first major tournament since independence and also was the flag bearer of Indian contingents at London. Sarangapani Raman scored the only goal for India at 1948 games which was India's first goal at Olympics. Government of India introduced postal stamp to honour the legend in 2018.
Walking on Ao's foot steps, it was Sailen Manna who came out as one of the best defender for the team, and was given the team's captaincy in 1951 at Asian Games and led the team to win gold medal, thus started the Indian golden period in football. He later led the team to three Quadrangular Cup from 1952-1954 and also captained at the 1952 Olympics and 1954 Asian Games. In 1953, England Football Association rated Manna among 10 Best Skippers of the World in its yearbook., awarded Padma Shri by Government of India in 1971 and AIFF honoured him as "AIFF Player-of-the-Milennium" in 2000.
In the 1950s and 60s, excellent strikers like Sheoo Mewalal, Neville D'Souza, Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram played for the national team. Mewalal was known for his fitness and bicycle kicks, who played as striker in the 1948 Olympics, 1952 Olympics and 1951 Asian games where he became highest goal scorer with four goals to help India to win gold. Mewalal became the first Indian to score a hat-trick since independence when he scored it against Burma at 1952 Colombo Cup where as D'Souza is the first Asian player to score a hat-trick in an Olympic Games, scoring a hat-trick against Australia at 1956 Olympics and also was the joint-highest-goal-scorer in that edition of the Games which helped India to reach the semi-final, the best ever India's performance at the Olympics.
Chuni Goswami is multi-sports athlete who played both football and cricket. His balance, dribbling skills, ball control and passing made him a complete striker. He represented the country at 1958 Asian Games and captained at 1962 Asian Games to win gold, 1960 Olympics and also captained at the 1964 Asian Cup where they mined silver. He was one of greatest players in Indian football history and was bestowed with Padma Shri by Government of India and AFC honoured him as Best Striker of Asia in 1962.
P.K.Banerjee, a refined winger who represented the Indian team at 1956 Olympics and later captained 1960 Olympics, was named as the "Indian Player of the 20th Century " by IFFHS along with Peter Thangaraj as the "Indian Keeper of the 20th Century " who also represented the Indian team in the same edition of Olympics. Banerjee along with Thangaraj also represented India at the 1958, 1962 and 1966 Asian games and at the 1962 edition they won the gold where in the final he scored one of the two winning goals. P.K.Banerjee was honoured with "World Fair Play Award" by CIPF in the year 1989, Padma Shri by Government of India in 1990 and in 2004 FIFA bestowed Banerjee with "FIFA Centennial Order of Merit" Award, the highest honour awarded by FIFA
Since 1970s to 2000 Indian team failed to grow at the same pace as in the 1950s and 1960s. But players like Syed Nayeemuddin had a few stints like winning bronze at 1970 Asian Games. He went on to coach the national team several times between 1986−2006. In the 1990s, the best player to emerge was I. M. Vijayan, who was known for his quick movements and skills. He played a long career with 66 international matches for India where he scored 29 goals and captained the India side at several occasions.
In the mid-1990s, Baichung Bhutia debuted, who played for the team during a period when its FIFA ranking dipped from 100 during his debut to 160 when he retired. But he successfully led the team to qualify to AFC Asian Cup after a drought of 27 years. He was the captain of the team for over ten years during its low point and under his captaincy, India won the SAFF Championship three times, two Nehru Cup in year 2007 and 2009 and the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008. Considered as one of the greatest footballers of India he is second-most capped player of India with 82 caps and scored 27 times for India. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2008.
The most famous footballer of the present era is Sunil Chettri, Captain Fantastic as his followers call him. He is the only footballer in India's history who played 100 international matches for India and is the all-time highest goal-scorer of India. He has led the national team to many victories, most importantly qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup and under his leadership the team achieved its highest FIFA ranking of 96 after twenty years. His goal-scoring ability and skills make him the only India striker to score three hat-tricks for India.
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