The All India Football Federation (AIFF) commemorated the 50 years of the Indian youth national team’s triumph in the AFC Youth Championship in 1974 by felicitating the team members in a function here on Tuesday. 

The well-attended ceremony remembered the exploits of the Indian team which was declared the joint winner with Iran in Bangkok, Thailand, after the two teams remained inseparable (2-2) in the final even after the extra-time.

This was the last notable triumph for Indian football in the international arena after the seniors had settled for a bronze in the 1970 Asian Games (also in Bangkok).

AIFF president, Kalyan Chaubey, presented mementoes to six members of the squad – captain Shabbir Ali, C.C. Jacob, Dilip Palit, Shishir Guha Dastidar, Ranjit (Gobinda Das) and S.P. Kumar. 

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The coach of the winning squad, Arun Ghosh, could not attend the function owing to health reasons. 

Ghosh’s son-in-law, former National table tennis champion Nupur Santra, received the memento on his behalf. “For almost five decades after India’s independence, we never focused on utilising the international friendly windows, the FIFA World Cup, or even to collaborate with the world of football. We chose not to look beyond the Olympics and the Asian Games, at that time. That seems to have cost us important international exposure,” said the AIFF president. 

“We have already lost those five decades, which is a long bridge to build when we know that others are way ahead,” he added.

Delving into the question of why India’s success dried out in the last few decades, the team’s midfielder S.P. Kumar said that the Indian system still lacks the element that is making countries like Japan and South Korea regularly play the FIFA World Cup. 

“We are improving coaching methods and techniques, but yet you see something lacking in our system compared to other Asian countries who have improved in the last few decades, like Japan and Korea who regularly play the World Cup,” Kumar said during an interaction session after the felicitation ceremony. 

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“When you talk about players, earlier it was more about passion when players used to train themselves learning from different sources as there were no coaches in the grass-root or the junior level. Now you have coaches for every age-group level, yet something is lacking in our development, which the officials responsible for running the sport in our country will have to find out,” Kumar added.

“That time, we had a lot of playing grounds where one could easily try out his talent. There is a lot of development in terms of technology and infrastructure, but you don’t have enough grounds, where you can just go to play and learn,” felt the team’s right-back C.C. Jacob.

The team captain Shabbir Ali reminisced, “We were a team that was determined to win, and we achieved it in the end. Under Arun Ghosh and Abdur Salaam (the teams’ coaches), we were a cohesive lot who trained in Patiala for almost a month before going to Bangkok. I am happy that the current generation will be able to know about our games through these commendable efforts of the AIFF,” Ali said.