It turned out to be a landmark competition for Indian hockey as the country’s dominance at the World level, and specifically the Olympics, ended with the loss to Pakistan in the final. Though India were to regain the gold four years later and again in 1980, the wheel of fortune had turned.
Going into the Games, there was nary a sign that the trip was to be ill-fated. The squad led by veteran half-back Leslie Walter Claudius had all the ingredients that gave the team an imperious profile.
While Claudius became the first player to participate in four Olympics, a record that Udham Singh Kullar was to emulate four years later in Tokyo, the team was brimming with a rare mixture of youth and experience. Strong in the defence where the legendary goalkeeper Shankar Laxman made for a formidable figure, India boasted of an equally good half and forward lines.
Yet, the script went awry in Rome after a typically good start that saw India winning their three league matches to qualify for the quarterfinals where they ran into Australia. An extra-time penalty corner goal by Raghbir Singh Bhola carried India into the semifinal where they faced Great Britain. Another close game saw India hanging on to a 16th minute goal by Udham Singh to enter the gold medal round.
Pakistan too had an impressive run to the final. They topped their group with an unbeaten record and beat Germany 2-1 in the quarterfinals, Spain 1-0 in the semis to set up a title clash with arch rivals India.
The final turned out to be a classic as Pakistan went ahead in the 11th minute through a goal by inside-left Naseer Bunda. India attacked furiously, but could not break the rival defence and Pakistan eventually emerged victorious. The kings of hockey were thus dethroned.
Indian team: Leslie Walter Claudius (captain), Shankar Laxman, Chinnadurai Deshamuthu, Prithipal Singh, Jhaman Lal Sharma, Shanta Ram, Charanjit Singh, Mohinder Lal, Joseph Antic, Govind Sawant, Joginder Singh, Victor John Peter, Jaswant Singh, Udham Singh Khullar, Raghbir Singh Bhola, Hari Pal Kaushik, Bandu Patil, Kulwant Arora, John Mascarenhas, Erman K Bastian, Balkrishan Singh Grewal.
League -- India beat Denmark 10-0 (Prithipal Singh 3; Raghbir Bhola 3; Peter 2; Jaswant Singh 2).
India beat Holland 4-1 (Jaswant Singh 1; Raghbir Bhola 1; Prithipal Singh 2).
India beat New Zealand 3-0 (Raghbir Bhola 1, Peter 1; Jaswant Singh 1).
Quarterfinals: India beat Australia 1-0 (Raghbir Bhola 1).
Semifinals: India beat Great Britain 1-0 (Udham Singh Kullar 1).
Final: India lost to Pakistan 0-1.
Positions: Pakistan 1; India 2; Spain 3; Great Britain 4; New Zealand 5; Australia 6; East Germany / Kenya 7 (joint); Netherlands 9; France 10; Belgium 11; Poland 12; Italy 13; Japan 14; Switzerland 15; Denmark 16.