The 70's team that AIFF failed to honour
By leaving out the 1970 Asian Games bronze medal winners, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) perhaps missed an opportunity to give a well-rounded feel to the start of its 75th anniversary celebrations in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The podium finish in Bangkok, beating Japan 1-0 through Manjit Singh's goal is significant not only because India have since slipped big time but also because of when it happened.
If timing is everything in sport, that 70's show must be remembered because it came after the 60s ended with a string of disappointing results.
India had finished last in the 1969 Merdeka Cup, an invitation tournament in Malaysia that used to be an annual fixture for our national team till the mid-80s, and lost all their matches in the Asian Cup in 1968 having gone into the tournament as joint-winners.
For the 1970 Asian Games, the Indian Olympic Association was reluctant to send the football team and, according to reports, a senior official with the contingent in Bangkok rebuked them during half-time in the opening match against Thailand when India were trailing 1-2.
India managed to draw that game, Subhas Bhowmick netting twice and after Mohammad Habib reportedly let it rip at intermission, exhorting the players to give that official a fitting reply.
They did that and more, qualifying for the semi-finals, something India couldn't as defending champions in 1966. In the bronze-medal match, India beat Japan, who had two years ago become the first Asian team to finish third in the Olympics' football competition.
Under skipper Syed Nayeemuddin and much before Tommy Soederberg and Lars Lagerback showed the world with Sweden that two coaches don't necessarily pull in opposite directions, PK Banerjee (even though he was designated as manager) and GM Basha had managed a turnaround in five months few thought was possible.
The then Fifa president, Stanley Ross, rated Sudhir Karmakar as Asia's best defender after his standout show kept famous Japanese striker Kunishige Kamikaze in check in the third place playoff. This team had managed to restore India's position of eminence in Asia. For one last time.
Wouldn't acknowledging that have added to Tuesday evening's glittering function where the AIFF honoured surviving members of the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games gold medal winning squads?