Indian Football at the Asian Games: The History

India were the first-ever Asian Games football champions, as they won the gold medal at the inaugural 1951 edition held in New Delhi.
India have won two gold and a bronze medal at the Asian Games. But all three medals came before 1970 (Image - Outlook India)
India have won two gold and a bronze medal at the Asian Games. But all three medals came before 1970 (Image - Outlook India)

1950 to 1970 is considered the golden age of Indian football. That era saw the Indian men's football team occasionally sparkle at the Olympics, but also India's consistent successes at the Asian Games. India became the first-ever Asian Games football champion at the inaugural 1951 edition held in New Delhi. They also went on to reclaim the gold at the 1962 edition in Indonesia. The Asian Games bronze at Bangkok in 1970 remains Indian football's last major success in the international arena. The Indian football team, for the second time in a row, will unlikely participate in the Asian Games 2023. So, let's jump into the history of Indian Football at the Asian Games.

Indian football team's medals at the Asian Games

New Delhi hosted the inaugural Asian Games in 1951. Team India found the perfect stage to carry the momentum forward. Rahim took charge of the Indian national team in 1949 and retained a few key members like Sailen Manna, Sahu Mewalal, and Ahmed Khan from Balaidas Chatterjee's 1948 Olympic squad. He also added some new faces like Pansanttom Venkatesh, Thulukhanam Shanmugham, and Abdul Razzaq Saleh to strengthen the forward line.

Sailen Manna regarded as one of the best defenders in Asia at the time, was leading the team and the backline. With his help, India went through the tournament without conceding a single goal. They defeated Indonesia 3-0 in the quarter-finals before outplaying a very physical Afghanistan side by the same scoreline in the semis.

The final against Iran proved to be a far tougher contest but India goalkeeper, B Anthony gave a performance to remember for a long time to help India clinch a 1-0 win. Mewalal, interestingly, scored in each of India's three matches, including the decider.

India finished a lowly eighth in 1954. At the Asian Games 1958 in Tokyo, India improved a lot under manager T Shome and fell one victory short of a medal. They lost to South Korea 3-1 in the semis before going down to Indonesia 4-1 in the bronze medal match.

Rahim returned as the coach of the Indian football team for the 1962 Jakarta Games and they shined again. Rahim was suffering from cancer, but he did have an exceptional squad at his disposal, which included PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, and Tulsidas Balaram – the holy troika of Indian football.

India began the campaign with a 2-0 loss against South Korea under Chuni Goswami's leadership. But they went and beat Thailand and Japan to progress to the knockouts from a tough group.

After a close 3-2 win over South Vietnam in the semi-finals, they defeated South Korea 2-1 in the final after goals from PK Banerjee and Jarnail Singh. Rahim's death in 1963 gave a huge blow as India could only manage an eighth-place finish in 1966.

India's last medal in football at the Asian Games

In 1970, Subhash Bhowmick, Sudhir Karmakar, Mohammad Habib, Shyam Thapa, and captain Syed Nayeemuddin played pivotal roles in helping the team to a bronze medal. PK Banerjee, interestingly, was India's joint coach during the campaign.

India didn't send a football team for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. The Indian women's football team has played in the Asian Games just twice. They finished eighth in 1998 and ninth in 2014.

Indian football team results at Asian Games

New Delhi 1951Gold (1st)
Manila 19548th
Tokyo 19584th
Jakarta 1962Gold (1st)
Bangkok 19668th
Bangkok 1970Bronze (3rd)
Tehran 197413th
Bangkok 19788th
New Delhi 19826th
Seoul 198616th
Beijing 1990Did not play
Hiroshima 1994Did not play
Bangkok 199816th
Busan 200210th
Doha 200614th
Guangzhou 201014th
Incheon 201426th
Jakarta 2018Did not play
Hangzhou 2022TBD

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