Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo are the names you see on the back of replica football shirts these days. But there was a time when a real-life hero shot to prominence on the global stage. As we continue our Olympic series, we present to you, footballer Neville D’Souza, a son of the soil, the first Asian and only Indian to score a hat-trick at the Olympics.
Goan bound for Global glory
Neville D’souza hailed from the small north Goa village of Assagao, but spent most of his adult life playing and living in Bombay (now Mumbai). He played for the creme-de-la-creme of top Bombay clubs like Tata’s and Caltex. His beautiful feints and sharp shooting was also put to the test when he represented Maharashtra in the Santosh Trophy on several occasions.
D’souza was picked up by the late great India Coach, Syed Abdul Rahim, who had a simple formula for football (2H + 2L), as he believed football is played with the head, heart, lungs and legs. In D’Souza, he had a player who possessed all those attributes and more. In between India’s two Asian games gold medal victories in 1951 & 1962, India’s finest moment arguably came in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where Rahim was the mastermind and D’souza was the magician.
Due to several teams pulling out of the Olympics at the last moment, India got the opportunity to progress to the quarter-final stage, where they met hosts Australia. It was in this game that D’Souza pulled off the memorable hat-trick, as India defeated the hosts 4-2. The performance by D’Souza got the then International Olympic Commitee President Avery Brundage and Fifa President Sir Stanley Rous to acknowledge D’Souza.
It is reported, that the hosts Australia considered the game a fluke and requested for a re-match. In the rearranged match, D’Souza scored 2 goals to help India progress to the semi-finals of the Olympics.
A few notable names that have scored a hat-trick at the Olympics include:
- Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany)
- Bebeto (Brazil)
- Romario (Brazil)
- Ivan Zamorano (Chile)
Olympic Top Goal scorer
The Semi-final match proved too much, as India were beaten 1-4 by Yugoslavia, with D’Souza netting a consolation goal. In the Bronze medal match play-off, India went down 0-3 to Bulgaria and missed out on finishing on the podium. Neville D’Souza finished as the joint top goal scorer in the tournament with 4 goals (six if you were to count the 2 goals in the replayed match), which brought him double recognition.
Some famous footballers who have been the top goal scorer at the Olympics include:
- Romario – Brazil (Seoul’88)
- Hernan Crespo- Argentina (Atlanta’96)
- Ivan Zamorano – Chile (Sydney ‘00)
- Carlos Tevez – Argentina (Athens ’04)
In recent decades the Olympic football tournament has become an U-23 affair, where only 3 players in the team can be above the age of 23. This has robbed a little of the sheen from the competition, although still every four years it manages to propel a new star onto the global stage.
D’souza died in 1980 at the young age of 47, survived by his wife, son and two daughters. His mentor, Rahim, passed away in 1962 at the age of 53 after succumbing to cancer. Let us hope the legend of Neville D’Souza continues to be remembered, so that it can inspire Goans to go on and compete for the country.
MAIN PHOTO COURTESY: Reference.com