Sri Lanka’s first international win at football
It was in the year 1952, to commemorate the visit to then Ceylon by their majesties king George the VI and Queen Elizabeth to declare open the Colombo Plan Exhibition, the Government had approached the major sports controlling bodies in the quest to hold a few international sports competitions in Colombo.
Football being the most popular mass sport had the edge over the rest and was the first to meet and discuss this programme. At a meeting held in June 1951, the Ceylon Football Association finally decided to organize a Quadrangular Football Tournament for the Colombo Cup, between India, Pakistan, Burma (now Myanmar) and Ceylon. It was also decided to hold the event on an annual basis with each country hosting the competition in rotation. It was the brain- child of the energetic Hon. Secretary of the Ceylon Football Association A.W. Musafer.
Full fledge National teams from India, Pakistan and Burma arrived in Colombo in early March 1952 for a 10 day tournament, and by then the city was gripped in pulsating anxiety to see the best of Asian football — India, Burma and Pakistan were forces to be reckoned within Asian Football.
Football during this time and midget Ceylon was an unknown football quantity. However two sad notes marred these celebrations. His Majesty King George the VI died before his set out from his Kingdom, and our own Prime Minister Don Stephen Senanayake died two days before the conclusion of the tournament, consequent to a fall off his horse while on his usual morning gallop at Galle Face Green.
The penultimate fixture between Ceylon and Burma on March 22, 1952, which was of academic interest only, was cancelled as a mark of respect to the dead leader. India and Pakistan, who obtain an equal number of points, were declared joint – champions. The players who represented Ceylon were: E.A Parker, T.H.B. Munna, T.H. Noor (Capt) T.H. Soono, E. Ramasamy, Basheer Ahmed,
Poddiappuhamy, Andrew Fernando, J. Howell, G. Lyall, J. Kitchener, K. Sugathapala, M.T.A. Ossen, K.S. Richard, C.S. Richard, Subood, Jabir, Naylor, Veeriah and Krishnarajah.
The Second Asian Quadrangular Football tournament was held in Burma in 1953. Incidentally this was the first occasion in which the National Football team in this country left its shores for an international fixture. Ceylon was represented by the following: T.H. Soono (Capt), M. Sheriff, O.L.M.H. Deen, A.C.M Junaid, A.C.M. Khan, Karunapala Fernando, T. Bongso, L. Cornelies, Andrew Fernando , T.J. Azeez, M.T.A Ossen, Peter Ranasinghe, Basheer Ahmed , K.A Premadasa, A.R. Jailabdeen, M.I.M. Laheer, K.S. Richard, K. Poddiappuhamy.
India won the Championship after a close tussle with Pakistan in an absorbing final in Rangoon. While the Ceylon team lost two of its matches by the narrowest of margins, it was placed last at the end.
The third Asian Quadrangular tournament was held in football crazy Calcutta in 1954. Our team members were : Peter Ranasinghe (Capt), M. Sheriff, J.A. Wilson, A.C.M. Khan, A.C.M. Junaid, M.B. Saldin, M. Meedin , K.A Premadasa, M.I.M. Laheer, T.S Jaymon, M. Synon, Tom Deen, Andrew Fernando, N.B. Hemachandra, M.T.A. Ossen, A. R. Jailabdeen, Karunapala Fernando.
The opening match at Calcutta between India and Ceylon ended in a 1-1 draw. The crucial goal was scored almost on time by that fine ball player Andrew Fernando. In the last match Ceylon beat Burma 2-1. With this win Ceylon had their first international victory at football. If not for an unexpected defeat by one goal to Pakistan, we would have been Joint – champions with India or runners-up. However in this instance India emerge champion once again.
A great win against Burma on the December 24, 1954 heralded Ceylon entry in to the elite group of Asian soccer nations. This brilliant peace of soccer achievement placed Ceylon high amongst the participating teams in the 3rd Asian Football Quadrangular and won for our country the respect and regards of our illustrious neighbours.
It was only a few days before that our boys held mighty Indian to a creditable draw in the opening game of this prestigious tournament. Had we not gone down by an odd goal to Pakistan in between our fine performance against India and Burma we would have been champions or joint – champions indeed. That one defeat apart our efforts at the 3rd Asian Football Quadrangular was one of the finest in our limited international encounters then.
Back on to the field. That X’mas eve in cold, windy Calcutta- Saturday, December 24, 1954 Ceylon took the field amidst deafening cheers from a mass of fans that had filled the ground. Easily ours were the most popular outfit amongst the rest more so as a result of being geographically pint sized are traditionally a simple, serene people The Burmese team looking strong, burly and athletic took there positions, also to a tumultuous welcome.From the first whistle, the stocky, speeder Burmese launched continuous attacks which were effectively repulsed by our well grilled defence. In many of our counter attacks, there were visible cracks in the Burmese defence , but too much of individualistic play and lack of initiative by our forward cost a couple of goals. Play was shifting from flank to flank rather than making inroads from the middle. Each team was trying to maneuver the other into a difficult position. Over – all, it was our team which made the strongest impression in these tactical ploys.
Towards the middle of the first half, Ceylon abandoned all caution and went looking for the opening goal. A long curving lob from Peter Ranasinghe to Premadasa saw this fine diminutive Half Back racing up front, and a high lob across which the keeper misjudged saw Tom Deen converting the loose ball into a goal. One up Ceylon now looked a rejuvenated team and with short, snappy passes controlled and converted meaningfully, made the Burmese defence look to be in imminent danger. Sensing the situation, the Burmese thought the best form of defence is to attack. This they did quite robustly, raising the brow of the referee on more than a few occasions.
However, it was Ceylon that added to the tally once more. Andrew Fernando, that versatile inside left, who was seemingly every where at the same time drove a finely executed left footer from the top of the box, giving the Burmese Keeper, hardly a chance to spot the ball, leave alone stop it. Two up and seven minutes to go in the first half, Ceylon looked like a well oiled machine, working to precision and perfection. Amidst such confidence came a grim reminder of the fluctuating fortunes in football, when the Burmese Left Inside connected a long high pass from the Burmese skipper Bakyu and with a swerve and curve in the air, headed it precisely into the goal, to the dismay of a sprawling Sheriff, who until then had excelled beyond expectations.
With the score 2-1 in favour of Ceylon, the game resumed after a short break , with the Burmese players in full throttle – the least to equalize – the must to win. Rigorous and relentless thrusts at Ceylon’s goal were foiled either by Khan, Junaid, Peter, Premadasa or Laheer or solitarily by Sheriff between the woodwork. During these tenacious attacks our defence stood as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar – never yielded never wilted. The whole of the second half was a battle with little success and disappointments equally shared by both team, when the final whistle was blown, Ceylon ran out worthy winners, and the small Sri Lankan community in this lovely city was a pleased and proud as the victorious them. Incidentally, this win against Burma was Ceylon’s first ever international success in football, and its worth was two fold, since it was achieved on foreign terrain.
The eleven heroes who represented our motherland and brought fame and glory are: Peter Ranasinghe (Capt), Sheriff, Khan, Junaid, Laheer, K. Premadasa, A.T.M. Ossen, Synoon, Tom Deen, Andrew Fernando and N.B. Hemachandra.
Credit for moulding such a fine squad must necessarily go to the Coach D.H. Abraham, the Chief Playground Instructor, who spared no pains to mould our players into an effective cohesive unit. Motivation and concern towards the players prudently extended by A.W. Musafer as Manager and R. Jeewaratnam as his Assistant went a long way to create local football history.
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