India have qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates (UAE) with their 4-1 win over Macau in Bengaluru on Wednesday. They have sealed qualification in some style in a tricky group, with two matches to spare.
This will be India's fourth appearance in the Asian Cup finals. How have they fared in the previous three tournaments, and what remains their best show ever? Let's wind the clock back and find out.
1964 Israel, Runners-up
P - 3, W -2, L - 1, GF - 5, GA - 3
The 1964 edition of the AFC Asian Cup, the third in all, was scheduled for May-June in Israel, who were a part of the Asian confederation till 1974, and only switched to being a nation playing officially in Europe as late as 1991.
Two-time holders Korea Republic and Central Zone qualifiers Hong Kong joined the hosts and India, who benefited from pull-outs by other nations in the Western Zone, to play a round-robin tournament to crown the champions.
India, without prolific forward PK Banerjee, had Chuni Goswami, Sukumar Samajpati and Inder Singh in a side coached by Englishman Harry Wright, who had taken over following the death of the legendary Syed Abdul Rahim in 1963. All three scored in the 3-1 win over Hong Kong, while Singh's goal in the 2-0 win over champions Korea Republic meant he finished joint top-scorer for the tournament alongside Israel's Mordechai Spiegler. One of Spiegler's two goals came off the penalty spot against India in a 2-0 win, that meant Israel won their only Asian Cup title, while India had to settle for second place.
1984 Singapore, Group stages
P - 4, D - 1, L - 3, GF - 0, GA - 7
India had the benefit of hosting one of the four qualifying tournaments for this edition of the Asian Cup, due to be hosted by Singapore for the first time in December, in Kolkata in October. A good mix of youth and experience, playing under another foreign coach in Ciric Milovan from erstwhile Yugoslavia, beat North Yemen, Pakistan and Malaysia and lost an inconsequential game to Korea Republic in qualification.
Despite having goalkeepers like Atanu Bhattacharya and Brahmanand Shankhwalkar, a defence that boasted names like Sudip Chatterjee, Subrata Bhattacharya and a strike force of Shabbir Ali, Biswajit Bhattacharya and Babu Mani, Milovan's India never recovered from a 2-0 defeat to Singapore, recording further defeats to UAE and China in their five-team group. While India failed to even score a goal in Singapore, they could take heart from the fact that they held eventual semi-finalists Iran to a goalless draw, becoming the only team in the tournament to do so.
2011 Qatar, Group stages
P - 3, L - 3, GF - 3, GA - 13
India qualified for the Asian Cup by virtue of winning the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup at home, with another foreign coach in Bob Houghton guiding them to the finals after an absence of 27 years. Their build-up to the tournament, due to be hosted in January almost three years after sealing qualification, was less than perfect, though.
The friendlies organised before the finals were few in quantity and against teams that could never have prepared them for the opposition ahead - India drew Bahrain, Korea Republic and Australia, who had been playing in the Asian Cup since just the 2007 edition, in their group -- and there was growing friction between Houghton and federation officials. When India landed in Qatar, captain Bhaichung Bhutia was yet to recover fully from a calf injury that had been plaguing him for some time.
Tim Cahill scored a brace and Harry Kewell scored a first-half goal too, as Australia handed India a 4-0 defeat to start their campaign. Against Bahrain in their second game, Gouramangi Singh gave India hope by neutralising an early Bahrain goal by scoring in the 10th minute, but India then conceded three goals in a span of 20 minutes to trail 4-1 at half-time. Sunil Chhetri pulled one back for India, but Bahrain scored one more to run out 5-2 winners, with striker Ismaeel Abdullatif scoring four past Subrata Pal.
India finished with another heavy defeat, going 2-0 down inside nine minutes before Chhetri converted a penalty in the 12th minute, as Korea Republic beat them 4-1 to complete a forgettable outing for a talented squad, but a majority of whom had probably peaked as a unit over a span of time at least two years before the finals.
Bhutia would realise his dream of playing for India at the highest continental level, coming on with 12 minutes to go in place of Abhishek Yadav. It would be the last of his 102 international caps for India, though a near-full strength Bayern Munich team gave him a testimonial game 12 months later in New Delhi.