India vs France – reliving Independent India’s first ever official match

On 30th July 1948, almost one year after gaining Independence, India played its first ever International football match against France, in the 1948 London Olympics.

On 31st July 1948, almost one year after gaining Independence, India played its first ever International football match against France at the world’s biggest sporting event – Olympics.

The 1948 London Olympics gave India an opportunity to compete against the world’s best. Under the guidance of Mohun Bagan coach Balaidas Chatterjee, the squad traveled to Great Britain after AIFF successfully managed to get India in Olympics, thanks to few other countries that withdrew.

The AIFF had done well to send the Indian team almost a month early to the event and had organised few matches leading up to the tournament. India played five unofficial friendlies against English amateur clubs winning all five and in the process scoring 39 goals while conceding just 5. The barefooted Indians’ dribbling and their exceptional ball control had managed to delight the English audience.

Indian players training at Richmond Park Olympic Camp. Source: Official report, 1948 Olympics.

Indian players training at Richmond Park Olympic Camp. Source: Official report, 1948 Olympics.

Finally, fifteen days prior to India celebrating its first anniversary, the Indian team took on France in the first round game of 1948 Olympics. Taking on a European team the Indian squad, led by centre-half Talimeren Ao, came out bare feet to play the game. Although France were not the world beaters they were still a one of those good teams that were regular in the world cups.

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Referee Gunnar Dahlner (c) looks on as the two captains, France’s G Robert (l) and India’s AAO Talineran (r), shake hands before the match (Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images)

In a wet and cold surface of the english field, a bare footed Indian team showcased some determined performances creating good chances against their much fancied opponent. Although India looked like a better side, it was France that took the lead when Rene Courbin drew first blood on the half-hour mark.

India soon had a chance to draw level when Gunnar Dahlner, the Swedish referee, pointed to the spot just before the break. Sailen Manna stepped up for the spot-kick but failed to make the penalty-kick count, as his effort sailed way over the bar. However India was granted another chance minutes later with a second penalty. This time it was Mahabir Prasad, who took the responsibility but once again India was denied after France Goalkeeper Guy Rouxel pulled off a brilliant save.

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France goalkeeper G. Rouxel (right) saves from India’s Raman (centre) (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Despite missing two penalties, India continued to attack in search of the equalizer and they were finally rewarded in the 70th minute. In a well played move, Ahmed khan combined well with substitute B Vajravelu, as the latter provided the final assist for Sarangapani Raman for a final shot on goal to draw level. It was 1-1 and game on. However, back in those days Football in India was 70 minutes game. As a result, Indian players began tiring out in the already cold weather. France tried to take advantage of the depleting Indian energy but the defence held on bravely.

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India goalkeeper Varadaraj makes a save during the match against France (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

However in the final minute of the game, the tiring Indian defence suffered a defensive lapse that led to French player Rene Persillon slotting home a winner for France. The game ended soon at 1-2 in favour of France and although the agonizing last minute winner from France meant India were out of the competition, the barefooted performances from Indians had managed to win the hearts of the 17000 strong crowd, who applauded the players’s effort.

Despite the first round exit for Indians, the match became a foundation for the India’s best footballing years. In the following decade India went on win gold in 1951 and 1962 Asian games while also coming 4th in Melbourne Olympics.

Also Read: I won’t miss any chance again – Rohmingthanga

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