Standing left to right | Benzinho Fernandes, Ainsao Coutinho, Candido Abreu, Menino Figueiredo (captain), GS Vaglo, Lube Tavora, Dr Gustavo Monteiro (manager), G Virgincar, Joaquim Goes (coach), Rex Souza, J Pereira, Vasu Raiturcar, K Anthony, Leao Gonsalves, P Colaco.Squatting | Anthony Monteiro, Ubaldeiro Costa, Marto Gracias, Keshav Vernekar, Andrew Souza, Francisco Fernandes, Alisab Sadekar, J Cardozo, Alcantara Barreto
When the match ended, there was silence all around.
The strong crowd at the Corporation ground in Madras, now Chennai, were watching in attention all through the game, but when the final whistle was blown, “a hush fell over the ground.”
“The crowd forgot to applaud this fine effort in its mood of commiseration for the stout-hearted Goans,” states a newspaper report, preserved carefully by Goa goalkeeper Benzinho Fernandes.
Goa were making its debut at the national football championship for the Santosh Trophy in 1964, the 20th edition of the prestigious tournament.
Liberated from Portuguese rule only in December of 1961, Goa had no role to play till 1964, and when they finally made their debut, the excitement all around, was not a surprise.
“Football connoisseurs in Madras admired the brand of Goan football,” Benzinho says in Ajit Moye’s ‘Memorable moments from Goan soccer.’ “Goa made a very impressive showing against the star-studded Andhra Pradesh and instantly came to be recognised as one of the best football playing states in the country.”
The Goa Football Association (GFA) named 22 probables to select the squad with league champions Salgaocar Sports Club (12) having the most representation. Railways had five players,Vasco Sports Club and MCC had two each. Caetano Mascarenhas was the lone player from Santa Inez among the probables.
When the final squad was announced, Salgaocar had nine players and defender Menino Figueiredo – Goa’s only international – was given the honour of captaining the squad, a first in any sport.
The preparations, though, were not exactly perfect. When the team left Goa to participate in the nationals, not many were convinced that they could match the best in business.
In two friendlies before the nationals, Goa seemed unconvincing. In the first game, Goa defeated MCC 2-1, but local newspaper reports said, “the display of Goa XI did not rise above the mediocre and if Goa is to make any impression in the nationals at Madras, they will have to strengthen their defence.”
In the second game, played just two days before departure, Goa lost against Vasco XI, raising more doubts about the team’s ability to give a good account at the nationals.
In Chennai, though, it was a different story. Goa were drawn to play star-studded Andhra Pradesh in the opening game. The opponents were led by Mohammad Zulfiqaruddin, a member of the Indian football team which reached the semifinals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and had four other internationals including 1962 Asian Games gold medallist Yusuf Khan.
Goa started with their backs to the wall, but within minutes, they proved they were made of sterner stuff. They moved the ball quickly and tried to catch Andhra Pradesh on the counter. In the opening 25 minutes, there were a couple of chances but Goa still managed to surge ahead through the boots of Anthony Kursingal. The inside-right from Kerala was the only outstation player in the team and he surprised the rival goalkeeper with a shot that sailed into the top corner of the nets.
Hyderabad equalised just three minutes later through captain Zulfiqaruddin and then pushed for the winner, which Goa denied them till the final whistle. At the other end, Goa created chances of their own with Ainsao Coutinho’s shot hitting the crossbar and Vassu Raiturcar’s header narrowly missing the mark. The match ended 1-1.
“Goa were very impressive against the star-studded Andhra Pradesh,” says Benzinho. “We had good defenders in Alcantara (Barreto), Candu (Abreu) and Menino. Keshav (Vernekar) and Alisab (Sadekar) fared well in the midfield, Vassu, Anthony, Andrew (D’Souza), Ainsao and Marto (Gracias) were all outstanding forwards.”
In the replay, Goa fought till the end but lost by a solitary goal, scored through the boots of Zulfiqaruddin with just six minutes left to be played.
“Goa lost the match, but won the admiration of the big crowd for the fight that it put up all the way through. Andhra kept up relentless pressure, and when it got the vital breakthrough, it came as no surprise. But gallant Goa having withstood the threat to its goal till the fag end of the match, the crowd had a sneaking hope that the new entrants might after all live to fight again,” The Hindu said in its match report.
Andhra Pradesh eventually made it to the final where they lost against Maharashtra 1-0.