National Youth Team
Team spirit the foundation for India's success in 1974 AFC Youth Championship, says Shabbir Ali
28 Apr 2024

Fifty years ago, on April 30, 1974, India created history when they won the Asian Youth Championship title jointly with Iran. is running a series of articles on this momentous achievement. In this article, the team captain Shabbir Ali spoke about the mental fortitude with which the players approached the tournament. 

Soumo Ghosh
AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: Team spirit, or the importance of it, is often highlighted by players and coaches alike. It was with the help of this team spirit that a rag-tag bunch of boys in the India U-20 Men’s National Team went on to create history at the 1974 AFC Youth Championship, in Bangkok, Thailand.

India were up against the odds even before they set foot in Bangkok, with the uncertainty of their travel looming large during their month-long training camp in Patiala. However, the Blue Colts overcame every one of them, as they eventually went on to become the joint-champions of the championship, alongside Iran.

Team captain Shabbir Ali, who later went on to become a household name in Indian football, recalled, “We were facing a few issues about our travel to Bangkok, but eventually, on the AIFF’s request, the ministry finally sanctioned our travel. There were absolutely no expectations on us, but we managed to prove all doubters wrong.”

Ali, who later went on to captain the senior India National Team too, felt that the results were down to the fighting spirit that the players showed in Thailand, five decades ago.

“The boys showed some excellent fighting spirit during that tour. Most of us were playing international football for the first time, so it was a new experience for us. Playing in front of such crowds was also something that was new to many of us,” he said. “Only the boys from Calcutta (now Kolkata) had played in front of hostile crowd, and they helped the rest of us.”

The forward later went on to be one of the top stars at Calcutta maidan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting.

“The grit, character, and togetherness that the boys showed was all down to the team spirit that was built by our coach Arun (Ghosh) da and the team manager Mr. Dilip Ghosh,” said Ali.

“I remember that our daily allowance was not much back in the junior team, so our team manager would get us all together and make morning coffee for everyone, every day we were in Thailand,” said Ali. “These may be small gestures, but they go a long way, especially when you’re dealing with players of a certain age group.

“The main thing for us was to be confident, and we got that after we beat Laos (1-0) in our first game. That win was the most important one, as we now had the belief that this level of football was not beyond us, that we had a chance to do something,” said Ali.

The team had the rather modest target of reaching the quarterfinals, which they did with much aplomb, topping their group. However, a terrific penalty shootout performance by goalkeeper Prasanta Mitra meant that India would face hosts Thailand in the semi-final.

“That match was a real test for us. They had so many fans, and we only had about a 100 in the stands. Nobody would have given us a chance, before that game started. We were just enjoying being in the semi-finals, while Thailand were the hosts, were backed by all the fans, and had scored 11 goals, and conceded none during their group stage,” Ali recalled. “But we pushed through all the way to the final.” India won 2-1, Shabbir Ali and Mohammad Yaqoob scoring the two goals.

The final was yet another surprise for one and all, as India went on to draw 2-2 with defending champions Iran after extra time, and both teams were declared joint winners.

Spoils shared

Generally, a team that are declared tournament champions would expect to come back home to celebrate with the trophy. However, with two champions, it was not exactly standard procedure.

The Blue Colts returned to Calcutta with a fair amount of fanfare. Felicitations by various parites were the order of the day for the new Asian champions. However, there was one item missing from those celebrations – not that anybody complained about it.

“I do not remember coming back to Kolkata with the trophy. They had just one trophy and two champions, so it first went to Iran for six months, and then came to India for the other six, before it had to be returned,” said Ali.

“We did get to click some pictures with the trphy after the match, though.”

The All India Football Federation, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, is hosting a 50th year celebration of the heroes of the Indian team who were crowned champions of the 1974 AFC Youth Championship. The players and coaches of the famous team will be felicitated in Kolkata by AIFF President Mr. Kalyan Chaubey.

“It’s a very good initiative that the Federation President Mr. Kalyan Chaubey is taking. It’s important that we remember the past heroes of Indian football, and celebrate them,” said Ali.

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