India at AFC Asian Cup: Runners-up in 1964, wilderness years, heartbreak in 2019 | Football News

India’s campaign in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup starts with a match against one of the title favourites, Australia. In fact, India are placed in Group B which includes Uzbekistan and Syria apart from the Australians. The lowest-ranked side among the three countries are Syria at 91 while Uzbekistan are 68th and Australia are 25th on the FIFA standings. India are ranked 102, which means that getting any kind of favourable result in the group stage is a long shot.

India will make just their fifth appearance in the Asian Cup this year(AIFF/PTI)

This wasn’t always the case though. India’s first appearance in the tournament came in 1964 and it also ended with their best-ever finish. The Asian Cup was just a four-team affair that year with several countries pulling out due to political reasons, among the many factors that would eventually result in hosts Israel being expelled from the AFC and eventually relocating to Europe’s UEFA.

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India lost just one game in the competition, to the hosts themselves, and ended up finishing runners-up to Israel. Englishman Harry Wright was India’s coach at the time, having taken over from the team’s longest-serving coach Syed Abdul Rahim a year earlier after the latter’s untimely death. The runners-up finish turned out to be among the final embers of the Indian men’s football team’s golden years, most of which coincided with Rahim’s reign.

It would be 20 years before India qualify for the Asian Cup and the team’s returns have been almost non-existent in the tournament since. Their next appearance came in Singapore 1984, where they placed in a group alongside China, Iran, UAE and the hosts. India held Iran to a goalless draw and that was the only point they won in the tournament. This was also their last Asian Cup appearance in the 20th century. They then qualified for Qatar 2011 and were dumped out without scoring a point. India were placed Group C with Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. They lost 4-0 to Australia in the opener, 5-2 to Bahrain in which Gouramangi Singh and Sunil Chhetri scored, and 4-1 to South Korea, with Chhetri’s 12th minute penalty being their lone goal in the match.

Eight years later though, India put arguably their strongest performance since the 1964 tournament, despite the fact that it ended with technically their lowest ranking in the tournament at 17th. India’s campaign started with a stunning 4-1 win over Thailand. The other two sides in the group were hosts UAE and Bahrain. Against the UAE, they lost 2-0 but went into the final group game against Bahrain with an outside chance of making it to the knockouts. They were arguably the better side in the first half and repelled Bahrain’s attacks effectively in the second. A draw would have been enough for India to go through to the knockouts but Bahrain won and converted a penalty in the first minute of added time, thus ending India’s dreams.

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