In 1948, while the world was reeling from the aftermath of the devastating World War II, London hosted the Olympic Games. One of the participating nations of the Olympics was the newly independent India, who still had shone in field hockey during the pre-war era. At London, for the first time, India decided to send a football team to compete as an independent nation at the highest level. The competition would be fierce with 18 invited teams. It was time people saw the Indian football team for the first time in foreign soil, that also a team where the players played barefoot.
The Indian side led by captain Talimeran Ao had some legendary figures in the team, including Sailen Manna, Taj Mohammad, K.P. Dhanraj among others. On this day in 1965, India took on France in the first knock-out round game. The AIFF sent its team well in advance so as to allow the players ample time to prepare themselves for the big challenge coming their way. India looked wonderful in the practice matches, scoring 39 goals in five matches and conceding just five.
On the D Day of 31 July 1948, India took on France. Their thick socks were cut off at the ankle and bare feet strapped up to protect and provide grip. Taj Mohammad wore the boots he had been given, but he was the exception. Sailen Manna, the star of the team, wore none. An even contest took place when France in 30th minute of the proceedings, broke the deadlock as Rene Courbin put one past the Indian goalkeeper. France were up by 1-0.
Just before half-time India was awarded a penalty. But Sailen Manna’s strike sailed just over the crossbars. In second-half, India started their barrage of counterattacks, when Ahmad Khan and Vajravelu combined to find an opening in the French defence and passed the ball to Sarangapani Raman. Raman made no mistake, slamming in India’s equaliser in the 70th minute. He was independent India’s first international goal scorer.
India had a chance to take the lead through another penalty, but Mahabir Prasad’s shot at the goal was saved brilliantly by the French goalkeeper.
Being levelled, with one minute to go for the final whistle, France’s Rene Persillon struck a goal to give France a 2-1 victory and a place in the quarterfinals.
India received a lot of praise for their performance in the 1948 Olympics. However the two penalties missed by Manna and Prasad could have changed the course of India’s footballing history.