December 1 marks 60 years since one of Indian football's biggest days - when the Indian team beat Australia 4-2 in the quarter-finals of the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. It was arguably their best result on the global stage, a match in which Neville D'Souza became the first Asian to score a hat-trick in the Olympics.
India went into the 1956 Olympics bolstered by the impact of two decisions taken by the national football federation a couple of years previously: Boots were made mandatory in all domestic tournaments from 1954 and the duration of matches was increased from 60 minutes to 70. The Federation was initially reluctant to send the team to Melbourne but gave its consent after an IFA XI defeated a strong Chinese Olympic team 3-1 in Calcutta in July.
Coach SA Rahim selected a young side (average age 23) after two short camps and also switched over to the three-defender system. Only Azizuddin and Noor Mohammed retained their places from the 1952 Olympic team. Samar (Badru) Banerjee was appointed the Captain and J Kittu his deputy.
The first round
The India had a tough draw as they were due to clash with the strong Hungarian side, runners-up in the 1954 World Cup. However, Hungary withdrew because of political upheaval in the country and India got a walkover to the quarter-final.
The big match
India were up against the hosts, the taller and stronger Australian team who had defeated Japan 2-0 in the opening round. The match, at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, began with India quicker on the ball and it took them only nine minutes to open the scoring. Samar Banerjee's piledriver crashed against the post and Neville D'Souza, lurking nearby, leapt to nod home the rebound. Australia levelled eight minutes later, when Peter Thangaraj was beaten by Bruce Morrow's header from a free kick by George Arthur from just outside the box.
It didn't take India long to reply. In the 33rd minute PK Banerjee ran down the right flank and sent in an inch perfect cross. Australia's keeper Ron Lord rushed out but failed to collect the ball and D'Souza, showing his poacher's instinct, took the chance and scored. Once again, though, Australia levelled quickly; the lead had lasted only three minutes when Morrow again nodded the ball home after Graham Macmillan's header crashed against the crossbar and Thangaraj and central defender Abdus Salaam failed to clear in time.
The second half began in similar vein, India dominating the exchanges by being faster on the ball. D'Souza completed his hatrick five minutes into the half; Kannayan raced down the wings and, cutting in, found himself entangled with Lord. The ball ran free and D'Souza, again siezing the chance, slotted it home. Kittu completed the rout in the 80th minute with a superb goal, sprinting 25 yards before deceiving Lord with a clever lob. Thangaraj closed out the match with two smart saves, leaving India 4-2 winners.
"Neville D'Souza was fantastic," said PK Banerjee, who had to be admitted to hospital after the match with severe cramps. "After we beat Australia 4-2, Australia challenged us to a rematch in Sydney. Do you know the result? We won 7-1. In Sydney, that evening, we massacred them."
One foreign agency wrote: "India's superiority over Australia had been demonstrated in a practice match earlier,but they will have to improve a lot and pass more precisely against Yugoslavia in the semi finals".
The semi-final Three days later India clashed with the taller and stronger Yugoslavia, who were also the favourites to win gold. India put up another spirited performance but lost 4-1. They played an open game but held the opposition scoreless till half time. Then India went ahead, that man D'Souza again with a brilliant goal. He seized a loose ball near his own half line and ran through solo towards the rival goal, taking two defenders on his stride, and then cleverly outpaced the rival goalkeeper to drive the ball into the net.
PK Banerjee remembers that goal clearly today. "What a goal that was! He made the last defender turn and weave three times, before slotting the ball past him."
Yugoslavia, though, were too strong and India wilted. "We were unlucky, because we had prepared well, but we were inexperienced back then," Banerjee said. "The same Yugoslavia who had scored 10 goals against us in 1952, we were leading them 1-0 till the 72nd minute."
Writing for the Hindustan Times, Lloyd Clarke said: "India today won herself a place in the ranks of world soccer players. In a fast and open game with the highly rated Yugoslavia, she was defeated 1-4 in a match that gave the Yugoslavs their toughest work out".
The bronze medal play-off was against Bulgaria, and India lost 3-0. By then, though, Neville D'Souza had done enough to was joint Golden Boot winner with 4 goals..
FIFA was impressed with India's showing; after the Yugoslavia match FIFA president Sir Stanley Rous and Dr Willy Meisl, a leading football journalist, visited the Indian dressing room to congratulate the players.
Gautam Roy is a football historian and media manager of East Bengal football club.