The Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore is considered a hallowed turf for Indian football. It has been a witness to numerous compelling stories and has played host to countless historic celebrations.
One of those carnival moments came on April 8, 2001; it added another indelible chapter in the storied history of Indian football. On that evening, India scripted a remarkable tale, clinching a sensational 1-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates during the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The magical moment of the match came in the 71st minute when Jules Alberto Dias struck the all-important goal.
Though time may have dimmed the memory to some extent, the significance of that goal still burns brightly in the minds of Indian fans. Many of them vow to say it was India’s finest day in international football this century.
“It was one of those beautiful memories which I still cherish and I’m sure a lot of Indian fans hold it in great regard,” was the first reaction of Jules Alberto when contacted him in London.
“It was an incredibly memorable goal for our team, and it gave a tremendous boost to our confidence, knowing that we could score against UAE. It wasn’t just a momentous occasion for the goal itself; it had a profound impact on the entire team. We were all filled with excitement and newfound confidence, which translated into us playing exceptional football,” Jules said from his London residence.
The UAE, ranked 64th in the world then, 57 places above India, were expected to comfortably win all their group matches. But India winning 1-0 against UAE is something people still talk about.
“Despite being labeled as underdogs against UAE, who were expected to dominate us with five or six goals, we set our sights on scoring that one crucial goal and then ensuring we didn’t concede, and that’s exactly what our coach Sukhwinder Singh told us. Our primary focus was to maintain our lead and keep them from making a comeback. Kudos to our defensive team and coach for their outstanding performance. We played brilliantly, and this victory instilled a remarkable level of confidence in our team,” Jules added.
Missed opportunities and regrets
Do you have any regrets? “Oh yes, I do have some regrets. I would have loved to advance to the next round. The journey was challenging, particularly traveling to Yemen and playing on their turf, which was not easy. In the match before Yemen, we managed a 3-3 draw in an away game. Then came our crucial match against UAE, where Bhaichung (Bhutia) received a red card. If that game had ended in a draw, it would have been beneficial for us, putting us at the top. When we faced Yemen away from home without a key player like Bhaichung, who was one of the best in the country at the time, alongside (IM) Vijayan and other top-notch players, it was challenging,” said Jules.
“Where we missed a significant opportunity was when we played Yemen at home, resulting in a draw. Though we didn’t lose, I believe that if we had won that game, it would have changed the entire scenario. We would have been one point ahead, a completely different situation from being one point behind.
“We emphasised the importance of seizing every opportunity on game day, typically about five or six chances per game, regardless of our opponents. We practiced diligently for set-piece situations, fully aware that approximately 70 to 80 percent of goals occur during these scenarios. We recognised that these moments were golden opportunities, and we prepared by working on various routines like long throw-ins, short throw-ins, and different types of throws,” said the midfielder, who played on the right that evening.
Remembering the 2001 goal against UAE
When asked about the historic goal he scored, Jules’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm, and a radiant smile graced his face as he began to recount the moment. He said, “What worked in our favour was our proficiency in aerial duels, with a strong team capable of heading the ball effectively. Our strategy for scoring goals involved using a specific routine. When Khalid (Jamil) was about to take a throw, the plan was for Vijayan to flick the ball into the box. Positioned behind him were me and Bhaichung, and Joe Paul (Ancheri) following just behind us and were ready to capitalise on the flick with our headers.
Although the execution wasn’t flawless, it still worked to a significant extent. Vijayan managed to flick the ball, and I over ran but it ended up hitting one of their defenders and fell back right in front of me. My sole intention at that moment was to flick the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. I had noticed the goalkeeper closing in on me from the corner of my eye, and it seemed like the only way to find the back of the net. So, I went for it and executed a flick over the goalkeeper. Bhaichung did an excellent job following up and blocking the defender, which allowed us to score the goal. While it wasn’t a perfect execution, it was effective, and it was the primary mode of attack we had practiced for,” remembered Jules.
Reflecting on this match, he said, “Our team had a rich football history, and we consistently performed exceptionally well against opponents from across Asia. While India did make progress in football, it was evident that other countries were progressing at a much faster rate. Their development was outpacing India’s growth in the sport. We were proud to be part of the team during the National Camp, and during that time, there was a prevailing discussion about the UAE being coached by a top-class coach from France (Henri Michel). This prompted us to strive to demonstrate that India still belonged among the top football nations.
“Our team had a strong football legacy, but we recognised the need to work hard to keep up with the rapid progress seen in other countries, all while striving to maintain India’s standing among the elite in international football,” said the former Salgaocar FC footballer.
In about another week, India will face its first opponent Kuwait at the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 match. Jules is confident the team will perform with their best ability to reach the next round. He said, “Why not, indeed? Why should we doubt our chances if we do everything right? Personally, I believe it’s all about having unwavering faith in our abilities and giving it our absolute best. To truly believe in something, you have to commit more than 100 per cent. It’s not merely about believing in 100 percent but going beyond that threshold.
“Players like (Lallianzuala) Chhangte, Suresh (Singh Wangjam), Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), Sandesh (Jhingan) are incredibly skillful, and in my opinion, they can stand toe-to-toe with anyone on the field if they play to their full potential. While there are formidable teams out there, I respect them, but I don’t let their reputation overwhelm me. Ultimately, it’s 11 players against 11 players on the field, not 15 or 16 against 11. If every player takes it as a personal challenge to outperform their opponent, that’s the essence of football. Football is about one-on-one battles within the larger context of the game.
“Of course, there are principles and strategies advised by the coach for how to play with and without the ball. But if players embrace the individual challenge of being better than their counterparts, there’s no limit to what they can achieve. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is; if you go out there with the mindset of 11 players against 11, there’s very little that can stop you. If we scored against strong teams like Qatar before, if we did it once, there’s no reason we can’t do it again”, remarked Jules.
Sunil Chhetri: The evergreen legend
Jules spoke highly of Sunil Chhetri, and said, “I do watch our boys play and I think Sunil Chhetri, the evergreen legend, is truly a remarkable individual. He stands as the torchbearer of Indian football, and I firmly believe that young aspiring players should view him as an inspiring role model. It’s not just about his goal-scoring abilities or his presence at the highest level of the sport. What truly sets him apart is his incredible consistency and the longevity of his career. He has displayed unwavering discipline, exceptional focus, and an unmatched level of concentration in the game. These qualities are not only a testament to his own dedication, but also a source of motivation for the players around him.
“Indian Football is growing and the way our AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey is taking baby steps to achieve their goals is remarkable. The recent inclusion of CAFA is another milestone that we have achieved and of course, the activities going on with baby leagues and women’s football,” Jules concluded.