Growing up as kids with significant interest in football, we had often wondered why India, whose movies were a toast in Nigeria in the 80s/90s doesn’t come to the World Cup football games. A dramatic explanation was given back then, which many of us in Nigeria believed in, no matter the school attended – interestingly, a man in his 30s repeated the same thoughts expressed below just as I was writing article.

We were told that in a football match between Nigeria and India, the Indians scored 1, 2, 3…97, 98, 99 goals against Nigeria! Then Nigeria only managed to etch out just one goal – so we were told. But how could this have happened?

The story then was that when the Indians shot at the Nigerian post, the ball turned to a vicious lion, causing the goal keeper to take to his heels, being the only one seeing the roaring lion. At other attempts it would become a fiery fire. But when the Nigerian lads would attempt to score against the Indians, the ball would turn to a stone causing anyone who kicked to get injured. Eventually, one of the Nigerian players decided to take off his boot and kicked the ball which passed the Indian goal keeper and became the only consolatory goal, thereby ending the game as 99 – 1. Due to this uncanny feat, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) banned India – so we were told as kids.

Growing up, we heard an international perspective which states that FIFA banned India because they insisted on playing with bare foots.

Given the furor of interests that has greeted me on my social media account on the reason why India hasn’t been to the world cup, I decided to come up with what you can possibly take to the bank as a reason why India isn’t also at the recently concluded World Cup.

Firstly, Nigeria and India never played any game that resulted in 99 goals. It’s not only ridiculous to beat a football talented nation like Nigeria by a 99 goal margin, but it’s also illogical that such amount of goals will be scored in soccer – we are not talking of basketball here. 99 goals would have meant that every one minute an average of a goal-plus is scored; giving no room for defending, dribbles, passing, throwing, injury delays and other real factors that necessitates extra time.


In 1950, was the year that India did qualify to the attend the FIFA World cup due to getting an automatic ticket after other Asian teams, the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma, withdrew from group 10, in a qualifier that had 34 teams competing. Brazil and Italy also got automatic tickets since Brazil was the defending champion and Italy was the host nation.

Granted, India had impressed in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, barefooted.  But FIFA did state that they’d not be allowed to play in the World Cup tournament barefooted. This, however, was not the major reason for India’s non-participation, as they did adjust in other competitions, playing with recommended foot wears.

Back then it was also difficult for countries to sponsor the trip from Asia to Italy. However, in the case of India, FIFA offered assist with their travel expenses thereby neutralizing the argument that cash for the trip was the impediment – in fact, India did attend other major international competitions prior to and after the 1950 tournament. 

The most plausible reason was apathy. As Kaushik Bandyopadhyay, associate editor of the journal Soccer and Society, put it Sports Illustrated:

“A careful study reveals that beneath the apparent financial difficulties given as cause of withdrawal lay the AIFF's unusual failure to appreciate the importance of participating in the Cup, despite assurances from the organizing committee to bear a major part of the tour expenses.

“This general idea, that the AIFF just did not take the World Cup seriously, considering the Olympics to be the ultimate goal, is backed up by Sailen Manna, who would have been the captain of the team.” As he told Sports Illustrated, "We had no idea about the World Cup then. [H]ad we been better informed, we would have taken the initiative ourselves. For us, the Olympics was everything. There was nothing bigger."

India, ranked 97 by FIFA as at 7 Jun 2018 has made many attempts to qualify from Asia, but the Cricket loving nation has continued to fall below par compared to the likes of Japan, China.

Today, as an adult, I’m glad that India cannot turn footballs into lions and stones. If that were possible, they’d have lifted the world cup well ahead of so many nations.

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