When I was growing up in 1980s, football came naturally to me and of course, thousands of other children. It's the simplest game on earth to play anywhere. Our heroes were Maradona, Alessendro Del Piero, Baggio, Batistuta and Romario. We worshipped them like gods and our walls were filled with posters of these legends, taken out from Sports Star Magazine. Those were the days!
Later we grew up a little more, realised the pathetic state of Indian Football and all our dreams were shattered in one go. We dreamt of becoming Maradona and Pele, but just when the reality struck us hard, we went quiet until cricket happened. But I bet more kids have football as their first love in India than cricket. Maybe because of the ease of playing the game and the irresistible appeal international footballers carry. If only Indian Team had played at international level, we could have dreamed a bit more!
Circa 1956, Indian Football Team finished fourth in Olympics while in 1950 India qualified for the world cup, but could not participate due to certain terms and conditions imposed by FIFA. Indian Football's golden period was from 1951 to 1964 where India was 4-time Asian cup winner. India lost 2-1 to France in 1948 London Olympics where India was unable to convert two penalties into goals. To be noted that India enjoyed the golden age of football under the captainship and later, managership of Syed Abdul Rahim, the legendary Indian footballer. After his death in 1963, India started losing in football tournaments which led to the game's decline and the public eventually lost interest.
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But, the sleeping giant is finally rising! Our recent ranking is up from 173 in March 2015 to 101 in April 2017. Quite a leap! The credits go to the players' hardwork and the British coach's Constantine tactics. Constantine is known to better the rankings of teams.
Indian Super League also played a huge role in developing Indian Football. The league offers a mix of national and international players where Indian players can learn from international counterparts. All the things have played a massive role in making India No.11 in Asia, which is again a feat for a team, who a few years back was languishing at the bottom. The team's achievements include 11 wins in 13 matches with 31 goals in the kitty.
And the greatest news is – The Indian U-17 Football Team is finally participating in the Football World Cup 2017 to be held in India. Finally, we are going to play with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Germany and probably defeat them? Nothing is impossible! We are getting the entry because we are the hosts, good for the exposure.
When, as a kid, I realised the state of Indian football and that how far we were from the world cup, I just carried this little wish in my heart over the years – that one day Indian Senior Football Team will play the World Cup.
The wish seems like a reality now.