India go top in Asia

Every month, the museum team will dig out and research an item from the FIFA archives. This month we feature the match report from the Final of the 1962 Asian Games.

So what is so special about this match report?

It’s the match report from the Final of the 1962 Asian Games, which were held in Jakarta, Indonesia. It would surprise many to know that India were once the best team in Asia and this match report proves it. They beat South Korea 2-1 in the Senayan Stadium – now known as the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium – to take the title and the gold medals.

But wait … don’t you have to win the AFC Asian Cup to be the best team in Asia?

Now, yes. But back in the 1950s and 1960s, the Football Tournament of the Asian Games was just as important as the AFC Asian Cup. Professional football was almost unheard of in Asia at the time and so the best players could compete in both tournaments. Asian football effectively had a championship every two years.

Was India’s triumph just a one-off?

No. India were actually the first-ever champions of Asia. The Asian Games Football Tournament was first staged in 1951 – five years before the first AFC Asian Cup – and India won that tournament as well, beating Iran 1-0 in the Final played in New Delhi.

What was behind their success?

Many people have put it down to their coach, S.A. Rahim. Not only did he coach both the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games winning sides, but he was also the coach of the India team that reached the semi-finals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Football Tournament. He was a great student of the game and used the revolutionary 4-2-4 formation at the Olympics, a system made famous by Brazil two years later at the 1958 World Cup.

So who was India’s star player?

That would have to be P.K. Banerjee. In 2004, he received the FIFA Centennial Order of Merit for his contribution to Indian football. One of his greatest contributions was to score the first goal in the 1962 Final. But there were others … India’s second was scored by Jarnail Singh, another legendary figure in the Indian game. A fearless defender, he played in the Final with stitches in his head. His goal proved to be the winner and was scored … with his head!

Who were India’s main rivals at the time?

As they are today, South Korea were very strong. They had won the AFC Asian Cup in 1956 and 1960, which makes India’s victory in the 1962 Final even more noteworthy. The previous Asian Games champions in 1958 had been the Republic of China – now known as Chinese Taipei – but they didn’t take part in 1962, and neither did Israel, who two years later won the AFC Asian Cup.

Why didn’t they take part?

The Indonesian hosts caused an outcry by refusing to give entry visas to the athletes from either nation. The Israelis were furious and wrote to Stanley Rous, the FIFA President. Unfortunately, as FIFA did not organise the Asian Games, they were powerless to change the decision. It wasn’t the last time that both Israel and the Republic of China took centre stage in Asian football for off-the-field events.

Doesn’t that undermine India’s achievement?

Not really. At the start of the tournament, India’s team manager G.D. Sindhi went public in criticising the Indonesians for excluding Israel and the Republic of China. As a result, the home crowd was fiercely hostile to the Indian team throughout the tournament. Jarnail Singh, conspicuous in his turban, remembers having to lie on the floor of the bus on the way to the Final so as not to be recognised. A capacity crowd of 100,000 drowned out the Indian national anthem with boos and cheered the Koreans when they were on the ball. In light of that, it can be seen as an exceptional triumph! Perhaps, even, the greatest achievement in the history of Indian football…