Monday, November 27, 2006

Will Indian football rebound after Asian Games?

India has been looking for a turn around in its football fortunes and to revive the popularity of the sport in the country. What better platform than the 15th Asian Games competition? India, an emerging economic power, was once a powerhouse in football. Although the All India Football Federation was only founded in 1937, football was introduced to India from England soon after The Football Association was first formed there in the nineteenth century. Mohan Bagan AC and Mohmmedan Sporting club, both from the northeastern state of West Bengal, trace their formation to 1888 and 1889 respectively. Football enjoys a passionate following in West Bengal, Kerala, and Goa. In Goa, football was introduced by the colonial Portuguese rulers. The Durand Cup held in Delhi, started in 1888 and holds the distinction of being the second oldest tournament in the world, after England's FA Cup.

India was an Asian Games gold medalist in the inaugural year in 1951 at New Delhi and again in 1962 at Jakarta. It qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1950 but pulled-out after its players were refused permission to play barefooted. Another milestone of Indian football was the 1956 Olympics, where the team lost to Bulgaria in the third place playoff match. That was the same Olympics where Neville De Souza scored the one and only hat trick by an Indian in Olympics football. India won its last medal: a bronze at the Asian Games in 1970.

Thirty-six years later, the Indian Government refuses to fund the football team's trip to Doha, Qatar for the 2006 Asian Games, as it believes it has no hope in winning a medal. The AIFF disagrees. "We are making the trip to Doha through our own expenses. It will be good exposure for the under-23 boys, and we are confident that the boys will do well," General Secretary Alberto Colaco told Armstrong Vaz of Ohmynews.

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