India is one of those countries where the football revolution has just started. The emergence of the Indian Super League (ISL) has helped a great deal in popularising the sport in India. More and more people from the country are taking up and enjoying this beautiful sport with each passing day.
Over the years, the modern-day stars like Sunil Chettri, Sandesh Jingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and others have become a household name in the country as the fans continue to ponder over why the Indian team does not play the FIFA World Cup? Or why the top players from the country do not play in the top-division European leagues?
While all of these might not happen anytime soon, did you know India has had decent success playing football at the Olympics? Or that the Indian football team played its first-ever international match at the Olympics?
1948 London Olympics
Being a newly independent nation, India made its international football debut at the London Games in 1948. Competing in London, the Indian team was led by talismanic Talimeren Ao. They played their first-ever international match against France in front of a 17,000 strong crowd. Though they lost the match 2-1, the Indians were the toast of the world as 8 out of their 11 players played the match barefoot.
Following the match, the Indian skipper Talimeren Ao said, "Well, you see, we play football in India whereas you play Bootball." This quote immediately made headlines making Ao a star overnight.
The first-ever international goal for India was scored by Sarangapani Raman in the 70th minute of the match. This being a knock-out tournament, India crashed out of the Olympics following Rene Persillon's winner in the dying moments of the match.
1952 Helsinki Olympics
India arrived at the 1952 Helsinki Games under the leadership of Sailen Manna. The only match the Indian team played at the 1952 Olympics is still the biggest defeat faced by India in an international match.
Competing against the eventual silver medallists of the tournament, Yugoslavia, India were thumped 10-1. The lone goal for India was scored by Ahmed Khan late in the 89th minute of the match.
1956 Melbourne Olympics
The Melbourne Olympics in 1956 will be remembered as the most successful one for the Indian football team for a long time as they finished at the fourth position, reaching the semifinals of the Olympics.
Led by Samar Banerjee, India got a walkover in the very first match of the tournament as Hungary which featured the likes of Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis withdrew from the Games, due to the Hungarian Revolution which was going on back then.
On the back of a walkover, the Indians reached the quarterfinals and registered their first-ever win at the Olympics beating Australia 4-2. The young Neville D'Souza scored a hat-trick – the first ever by an Asian in Olympics, while Kishan Kittu netted the fourth goal to take India to the semifinals.
India met a similar foe in the form of Yugoslavia in the semis, and fell to a 4-1 loss despite taking a 1-0 lead through Neville D' Souza at the 52nd minute of the game.
This loss against the Yugoslavians meant that the Indians were pitched against Bulgaria for the bronze medal match which they lost 3-0 to finish fourth in the tournament. With his incredible performances throughout, Neville D' Souza finished as the joint highest goal scorer in the tournament.
1960 Rome Olympics
The 1960 Rome Olympics was India's last appearance at the Olympics. By this time group system was introduced in the Olympics and India, led by the legendary PK Banerjee, were paired with Hungary, France and Peru.
India gave a very tough fight to the eventual bronze medallist Hungary in their very first match before eventually losing 2-1. The Hungarians seemed to be cruising in the match having taken a 2-0 lead, but the Indians staged a late comeback as Tulsidas Balram pulled one back in the 79th minute to give India a glimmer of hope. It was not to be as India failed to find the back of the net again in the match.
Up against a much stronger France, the Indians took a 1-0 lead in the match at the 71st minute, thanks to a goal by the skipper PK Banerjee. But the Les Blues hit back with a late equaliser to hold India to a 1-1 draw.
Playing against Peru in the last group stage match, Tulsidas Balram scored the lone goal for India as they went down 3-1 to crash out of the tournament.