Flashback Friday | When India almost beat France at the 1948 Olympics

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In 1948, with the world reeling from the consequences of the devastating World War II, London hosted the Olympic Games. One of the nations participating in the Olympics was the newly independent India, which had still shone in field hockey during the pre-war period. In London, for the first time, India decided to send a football team to compete as an independent nation at the highest level. The competition would be fierce with 18 invited teams. It was time for people to see the Indian soccer team for the first time on foreign soil, it is also a team where the players played barefoot. The Indian squad led by Captain Talimeran Ao had legendary figures in the squad including Sailen Manna, Taj Mohammad, KP Dhanraj, among others. On that day in 1965, India faced France in the first knockout match. The AIFF sent their team well in advance in order to give the players enough time to prepare for the big challenge that awaits them. India were stunning in practice matches, scoring 39 goals in five matches and conceding only five.

On D-Day of July 31, 1948, India faces France. Their chunky socks have been cut to the ankle and bare feet tied to protect and provide grip. Taj Mohammad wore the boots given to him, but he was the exception. Sailen Manna, the star of the team, did not wear one. A tie match came when France, in the 30th minute of the proceedings, broke the deadlock as René Courbin put one in front of the Indian goalkeeper. France led 1-0.

Just before half-time, India received a penalty. But Sailen Manna’s attack sailed just over the crossbars. In the second half, India started their barrage of counterattacks, when Ahmad Khan and Vajravelu combined to find an opening in the French defense and passed the ball to Sarangapani Raman. Raman was right in scoring India’s equalizer in the 70th minute. He was India’s first independent international goalscorer.

India had a chance to take the lead with another penalty, but Mahabir Prasad’s shot was brilliantly saved by the French keeper.

Tied, one minute from the end of the final whistle, Frenchman René Persillon scored a goal to give France a 2-1 victory and a place in the quarter-finals.

India received a lot of praise for its performance at the 1948 Olympics. However, the two penalties missed by Manna and Prasad could have changed the course of Indian football history.

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