From 1964 to 2019: India's topsy-turvy ride at the AFC Asian Cup
India will look to leave their past experiences behind and defy all odds to make it to the next round.
The Indian national football team are gearing up for their upcoming AFC Asian Cup campaign, marking their fifth participation in this prestigious continental competition. Notably, this also signifies their second consecutive qualification for the tournament, showcasing their growing prowess on the Asian football stage.
The #AsianCup2023 chapter beckons as the #BlueTigers aim to achieve their #AsianDream! 🤩🌟— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) January 8, 2024
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Drawn into Group B, the Blue Tigers find themselves in challenging company with Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria. Head coach Igor Stimac faces a daunting task in steering his team towards positive results that will secure their passage to the next round. The absence of key players such as Anwar Ali and Ashique Kuruniyan adds an additional layer of complexity to India's mission. Nevertheless, the team is resolute in giving their best effort to surpass their performance in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
But before they embark on their journey in Qatar, let's delve into their past performances at the Asian Cup.
1964 AFC Asian Cup
The 1964 AFC Asian Cup was the 3rd edition of the continental tournament, following its inception in 1956, and this was also India’s first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup. This marked India's best result in the continental tournament as they finished as runners-up under English head coach Harry Wright. However, back then, the tournament used to be a four-team affair and was played in a round-robin format. The Blue Tigers earned direct qualification for the tournament from the Western Zone.
Held in Israel, South Korea and Hong Kong were the two other teams that qualified for the tournament. Kosuru Appalaraju and Inder Singh got their names on the scoresheet as Team India secured a brilliant 2-0 victory over South Korea in their opening match of the Asian Cup.
However, the team suffered a setback in the following game as they lost 2-0 to hosts Israel but made a strong comeback in their final match against Hong Kong, beating them 3-1 with goals from Subimal “Chuni” Goswami, Inder Singh, and Sukumar Samajpati. Despite the big win, it was not enough for them as Israel secured their third consecutive victory against South Korea to clinch the trophy on home soil.
India’s Inder Singh and Mordechai Spiegler of Israel were the top scorers in the tournament with two goals.
1984 AFC Asian Cup
India had to wait 20 years for their next qualification to the Asian Cup, securing a spot as the Group 3 runners-up. The ten qualified teams were divided into two groups, each comprising five teams. The Blue Tigers were grouped with hosts Singapore, China, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.
However, the Indian team had a campaign to forget as they only managed to secure one point, finishing at the bottom of Group B and failing to score a single goal in the entire tournament.
India began their campaign with a 2-0 defeat to Singapore, followed by another 2-0 loss to the United Arab Emirates. Although they put on a strong display in their third group stage match against Iran, securing a 0-0 draw, they went down 3-0 to China to end a forgetful campaign.
2011 AFC Asian Cup
India's next and third appearance came in 2011 when they qualified as the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup winner. A hat-trick from Sunil Chhetri and a goal by Bhaichung Bhutia helped hosts India defeat Tajikistan 4-1 in the final of the Challenge Cup, qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years.
However, another challenging campaign awaited Bob Houghton’s side as they found themselves pitted against the Asian giants Australia and South Korea, with Bahrain also joining them in Group C. Despite valiant efforts from Subrata Paul between the sticks, they couldn’t escape a heavy defeat in the opening match, going down 4-0 to Australia.
In the following match against Bahrain, the Blue Tigers did find the back of the net twice, but the opposition scored a staggering five goals, with Ismail Abdullatif scoring four of them. India ended another painful campaign with a 4-1 defeat to South Korea in the final match, finishing at the bottom of Group C.
2019 AFC Asian Cup
India's fourth and latest appearance at the AFC Asian Cup came in 2019 when they qualified as Third Round Group A winners. Stephen Constantine’s side was placed in a comparatively easier group this time with hosts United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Bahrain.
The Sunil Chhetri-led side put on a fantastic performance in the opening match against Thailand, beating them 4-1 and starting the campaign on a flying start. This was India’s first win in the Asian Cup for over 55 years. However, they faced a 2-0 defeat to hosts UAE in the following match.
Although there were hopes of India making it to the next round of the Asian Cup, their first time since the expansion of the tournament. Constantine’s side displayed a much better defensive performance in the final game against Bahrain. A draw would have seen them qualify for the next round, but they gave away a penalty in the stoppage time of the second half, seeing their chance of qualification squandered, and they finished at the bottom of the table with three points.