Olympic Football: India's lost turf
The fourth place finish in 1956 remains India's best show at the Summer Olympics. A 4-2 win over Australia saw India through to the semi-final, in the process also becoming the first Asian team to make it to the final four at the Olympics.
Between 1948 and 1960, the Indian football team made four consecutive appearances at the Olympics and on three of those occasions it was a Mohun Bagan player who captained them. Dr. Talimaran Ao, Sailen Manna and Samar Banerjee were the captains of the Indian football team at the 1948, 1952, 1956 Olympics respectively. At the 1960 Olympics the Indians were led by former Mohun Bagan player P.K. Banerjee.
On 31st July 1948, India faced France in their first match at the Olympics. Led by Dr. Talimaran Ao, the barefooted Indians missed two penalties to go down 2-1 and bow out of the games. Despite the loss, the Indians had given a good account of themselves in their first official international match.
After their triumph in the 1951 Asian Games, much was expected of the Indian football team at the 1952 Olympics. Sailen Manna was the captain of the team. Yugoslavia, one of the European powerhouses of that era, dashed Indian hopes again as they downed the defending Asian Games champions 10-1. After this loss, FIFA made it a mandate to wear boots while playing.
The 1956 Olympic Games football tournament suffered from cancellations. The Indians who were an Asian powerhouse by then were among the 11 competing teams. After an initial walkover from Hungary, the Indians played their first game of the tournament on December 1, 1956. They shocked hosts Australia 4-2 to register their first win in the Olympic Games history. Neville D'Souza, with three goals in that game, became the first Asian to score a hattrick in the Olympics and India earned the distinction of being the first Asian country to reach the Olympic semifinals.
With a good shot at returning with a medal, the Indians took on Yugoslavia in the semifinal. On the day, they were outplayed 4-1 by the silver medallists of the 1952 games and had to take on Bulgaria for the bronze medal. The Olympic medal eluded the Indian football team as Bulgaria scored thrice, without any reply from the Indians, to grab the bronze.
India's last run at Olympic football was in 1960. The team led by legendary footballer P.K. Banerjee was pitted against Hungary, France and Peru in Group D. Two losses and a famous draw against France meant India finished bottom of their group with 1 point and would not progress further in the competition.
With football standards continually dipping in India after 1960, Olympic qualification has been a distant dream. Currently ranked 163, the Indians have a long way to go before they can be genuine contenders for Olympic qualification.
We hope that the next time the Indian football team qualifies for the Olympics, another Mariner will lead their quest for the coveted medal.
Arnab Ghosh, a Ph. D. student of the Department of Mathematics, IIT Guwahati, is...