(This story was first published on 14 October 2017. It is being republished from The Quint's archives following the passing of much-loved Indian football expert, Novy Kapadia.)
India is currently hosting its biggest-ever football event with the FIFA Under-17 World Cup being played across six cities. After putting up a fighting show, the host team however is out of the tournament after three losses in their Group A matches. However, the young 21-member team played to packed houses and garnered massive crowd support during their three matches, almost reminding India what it’s like to show support to football once again.
Like we did in the 1990s.
Like in the times of Coach Rahim and his magicians.
Football expert Novy Kapadia, author of Barefoot to Boots: The Many Lives of Indian Football takes us through the three massive moments of Indian football, from the previous century.
Under the revolutionary guidance of coach Syed Abdul Rahim, India became the first Asian country to reach the semi-finals at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and played the “4-2-4” formation long before powerhouse Brazil.
In the semi-finals, India led Yugoslavia 1-0. However, since India wasn’t used to playing a 90-minute game, they conceded three goals in the final 15 minutes and eventually lost 1-4.
Highly impressed with India and coach Rahim, FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous had then claimed that if Asian and African football was to improve, this was the way to follow.
In the opening game of the 1960 Rome Olympics, the same Hungarian side that beat a star-studded England 3-1 at the 1962 Olympics, struggled to beat India.
In the last 10 minutes, the Hungarians were tugging the shirts of Tulsidas Balaram, PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami –– the trio that tormented the Hungarian defence. Even though India lost 1-2, many considered this as one of India’s greatest matches.
Back then, most European critics believed that India had almost reached European standards and were by far the best Asian team.
The 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta was the last time India won a gold medal in a major event overseas.
After losing to South Korea 0-2 in the Group B opener, India beat Thailand 4-1 and then Japan 2-0 to reach the semis.
Syed Abdul Rahim – India’s coach from 1950 right until he passed away in 1963 – was a psychologist with a sardonic sense of humour and always gave the players their space. However, ahead of their gold medal match against South Korea, coach Syed Abdul Rahim made an emotional appeal to his team to win the gold. Rahim passed away of cancer on 11 June 1963.
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Cameraperson: Abhay Singh
(All images have been taken with permission from the publisher from Barefoot to Boots: The Many Lives of Indian Football by Novy Kapadia)
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