The closest India has ever come to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup was in 1950 which took place in Brazil. Surprisingly, the India Football Federation threw away an opportunity for their national team to take part in the tournament because they lost an appeal to play without wearing shoes. Many countries pulled out from the tournament that year amidst World War II worries, with only 13 countries from 3 Confederations partaking in it.
According to Tribune India, three myths had imperilled India from participating in the 1950 World Cup:
Myth 1: AIFF felt that the Indian stars, who were used to playing barefoot, would be outclassed by stronger opponents as wearing footwear was mandatory under FIFA rules. It could have marred the Indian football team’s rising stature after the 1948 London Olympics, where they narrowly lost to France 1-2.
Myth 2. The paucity of foreign exchange and the long journey by ship is said to be the other reasons for the pull-out. Myth 3. India was not used to playing 90-minute matches. Before 1970, India’s domestic tournaments were of 70-minute duration.
The reality could be somewhere in between. First, India had attained Independence only around three years earlier and was not sure of making such a big investment for just participation. Back then, the FIFA World Cup was not as glamorous and its universal appeal and popularity were not as much as today.
Second, AIFF officials were keener on the Olympics and the 1951 Asian Games, to be held in New Delhi.
Third, some apprehensions that playing in the FIFA World Cup would brand India’s players as professionals, thereby leaving them ineligible for the Olympics.
Nations that withdrew during the qualifications:
In Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Burma all withdrew, leaving India to qualify by default.
From South America, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru withdrew after the qualifying draw, in Argentina’s case because of a dispute with the Brazilian Football Confederation. This meant that Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay qualified from South America by default.
In Europe, Austria withdrew, claiming its team was too inexperienced. Belgium also withdrew from the qualification tournament. These withdrawals meant that Switzerland and Turkey qualified without having to play their final round of matches.
Countries that withdrew after qualifications:
The 1950 FIFA World Cup was formulated to acclimate 16 Countries of four groups and four countries in each group. Unfortunately, India, Turkey, and Scotland withdrew from the tournament after securing a qualification spot.
Bolivia, Brazil (hosts), Chile, England, India (withdrew), Italy (1938 champions), Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Scotland (withdrew), Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey (withdrew), United States, Uruguay (1930 champions), Yugoslavia.
Some nations were invited such as the Soviet Union, 1934 finalist Czechoslovakia, and 1938 finalist Hungary rejected to partake.
Unfortunately, African nations have not been inducted into the tournament, conversely, Egypt was the only African nation to have participated in the 1934 edition. They were the first African Nation to play in the FIFA World Cup and even made it to the 1954 edition before the creation of the Confederation of Africa Football(CAF) three years after.