On the 46th anniversary of the occasion, Former footballer and the Captain of the team India Shabbir Ali shared his experiences and memories of how the team went from “just a participant making up the numbers” to stealing the show within three days of the tournament, which took place in Bangkok. On this day in 1974, India were declared joint winners of the Asian Youth Championship with Iran.
“Ours was a talented bunch and upon arrival in Bangkok, we were put up at Hotel Sukhumvit — a five-star hotel. In fact, all the teams also put up there… The tournament comprised of 16 teams and we were clubbed with Laos, Burma (currently Myanmar) and Hong Kong. On the surface, none in Bangkok gave us a chance. To most teams, or rather all the other teams — we were just a participant making up the numbers,” Ali said in a statement.
They behaved as if we have trouble into the championship. In such a situation, the brief from our coaches – Arun Ghosh and the late SA Salam was to: ‘Take one step at a time.’ Amidst all odds, we beat Laos by a solitary goal in our first group league match, with me scoring India’s winner. The victory set the tone for us and made us confident. Self-belief took over and I scored again in India’s second match as we beat Burma by an identical 1-0 margin. Within a span of three days, our entire focus changed,he added.
Then Ali recalled the Knock-Out match against Singapore in which India won by the penalty shootouts.
Ali told that India were hit hard as Singapore took the lead. It was a knock-out match and as always, it was a race against time to restore parity, and then look ahead. But India rose to the occasion. Ali scored for India as it ended 1-1 after regulation time and even extra time. India entered the penalty shootout against Singapore.
“I will admit, that we were extremely tensed during the shootout. I remember Arun-da telling us not to panic. ‘They will also be trying extra. So we need to stick to basics. Just remember the basics. Don’t try fancy things in the tie-breaker,’ he told us. The late Prasanta Mitra, our goalkeeper, turned out to be the hero in the penalty shootout. We won 4-1 and took the next step – a step into the semis, and stood two matches away from being crowned champions,” Ali said in a statement.
Reflecting on the final of the tournament against Iran, Ali said that Iran drew first blood, but soon Latifuddin equalised as regulation time ended 1-1. In the second minute of extra-time, India took the lead and he scored his fifth goal in the tournament. Iran was stunned but India was determined. They went all guns blazing and managed to pull it back some two minutes before the close. The match finished 2-2 and India was declared joint-winners with Iran.