Indian football team, was once considered one of the best teams in Asia, had its golden era during the 1950s and early 1960s. During this period, under the coaching of Syed Abdul Rahim, India won gold during the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games, while finishing fourth during the 1956 Summer Olympics.
India has never participated in the FIFA World Cup finals, although the team did qualify by default for the 1950 World Cup after all the other nations in their qualification group withdrew. However, India also withdrew prior to the beginning of the tournament.
India qualified by default for the 1950 FIFA World Cup finals as a result of the withdrawal of all of their scheduled opponents. But the governing body AIFF decided against going to the World Cup, being unable to understand the importance of the event at that time. Reasons shown by the AIFF included the cost of travel, lack of practice time, team selection issues and valuing the Olympics over the FIFA World Cup.
Although FIFA imposed a rule banning barefoot play following the 1948 Olympics where India had played barefoot, the popular belief that the Indian team refused to play because they were not allowed to play barefoot is not entirely true, according to the then Indian captain Sailen Manna, it was just a story to cover up the disastrous decision of the AIFF. The team has never since come close to qualifying for the World Cup.
India had its declining period from1970 till 2000’s with continuous disappointments in Asian tournaments. India returned to the Asian Games in 1966. Despite their performance two years prior during the AFC Asian Cup, India could not go beyond the group stage as the team finished third, behind Japan and Iran. Four years later, during the 1970 Asian Games, India came back and took third place during the tournament. The team defeated Japan 1–0 during the bronze-medal match.
Since independence, there have been eighteen different head coaches for the India national team, with ten of them being foreign coaches. The most successful head coach for India was Syed Abdul Rahim, who lead India to gold in both the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games while also achieving a fourth-place finish during the 1956 Summer Olympics.
In 2003, under the coaching of Stephen Constantine, India managed to make it to the final of the tournament after defeating Zimbabwe, a team ranked 85 places above India in the FIFA rankings at the time, 5–3. Despite the major victory, during the gold-medal match India were defeated 1–0 by Uzbekistan U21. Due to this achievement, Constantine was voted as the Asian Football Confederation’s Manager of the Month for October 2003. The tournament result also gave India more recognition around the country and around the world.
After 2000, India started its rejuvenating period, with players like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri making their names around the world.
Sunil Chhetri holds the record of most number of games at 101, as well as the most number of goals in Indian history, just one short of Lionel Messi at 64.
Year 2017 was a historic year in Indian Football as India hosted U-17 FIFA World Cup. The tournament took place in India between 6 and 28 October 2017, after the country was awarded the hosting rights on 5 December 2013.India made their first ever appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup and their first appearance in the World Cup at any age level.
Although, India failed to win any of their games in the tournament and failed to qualify from the group stage, it showed the passion Indians have about the game, as the crowd turned up in amazing number.
In April, Indian football team captain, Sunil Chhetri’s plea went viral, as all tickets for India's Intercontinental Cup game against Kenya were sold out after the captain urged all the Indians to support them in the tournament. With the crowd behind them, Indian football team showed the potential they have, as they went on to lift the Intercontinental cup.
India notched up one of its most memorable football triumphs when the country's under-20 team stunned traditional giants Argentina 2-1 despite being reduced to 10 men in a pulsating contest at the COTIF Cup.
In 2012, India was ranked 175 in the FIFA World rankings. India’s currently ranked 97th in the World ranking, with such a drastic improvement and positive signs in the recent times, maybe India has a great chance of qualifying to 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in USA and Mexico. As that year’s World Cup will be having 42 teams instead of just 32.