As a spectator and a sports enthusiast, Mridul Negi reminiscences on the lowdown of the ongoing of the U17 Football World Cup, in which India is no longer a participant
October of 2017 will forever be etched in the memory of Indian football fans. The date 6th October will always be remembered as the day when India took on the heavyweights of world football for the first time. India has been called ‘The sleeping giant’ of football for a very long time, but this time the giant woke up from its slumber to let the world know it has arrived.
When the draws for the group stages of the tournament were made it was apparent that India would do well to get anything out of the group stages as they were pitted against the likes of Colombia, Ghana, and the USA. The three countries have produced global superstars such as James Rodriguez, Alex Song, and Christian Pulisic.
The Indian U-17 National team, led by Amarjit in attendance of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and more than 40,000 fans at the stadium carried the expectations of an entire country on its shoulders. They had been granted exposure at an international level during their various training camps abroad to prepare them for the tournament, however, USA proved too much for them as they were defeated 3-0. Despite being outplayed India showed glimpses of quality, goalkeeper Dheeraj and winger Komal Thatal stood out as two bright spots for India during the game.
Putting the defeat behind their backs on their world cup debut, the Indian team, prepped up to face Colombia in what turned out to be the highlight of the tournament for the hosts. Colombia had been defeated 1-0 in their first match against Ghana. Coach de Matos made some tactical changes and dropped star winger Thatal to the bench to add solidarity in defence. It became clear from the kick-off that there was something different about the Indian team this time, India created chances galore and outplayed Colombia in the first half, hitting the goalpost once and forcing their goalkeeper into a brilliant save by the halftime whistle.
However, the start of the second half showed the frailties in the inexperienced Indian side as they went down a goal early in the second half, yet, backed by a vociferous support in the stadium refused to give up. In the 82nd minute of the game arrived the moment every Indian was dreaming of. Sanjeev Stalin drove in an excellent corner kick in the box, which was met by Jeakson Singh’s leaping header to score India’s first goal in a FIFA world cup.
The stadium erupted in a thunderous roar as the ball hit the back of the net, the moment of Euphoria was here, Jeakson had made history. The ecstasy though, turned into heartbreak a minute later as Colombia scored another one to make it 2-1. India lost the match, but those who witnessed what happened on the pitch will remember it forever.
Gulf of Class
India’s brave performance against Colombia came short of a victory meaning India had to defeat Ghana by a clear margin of 3 goals to have any chance of progressing. As expected Ghana known for its physical prowess and athletic ability proved too much for the young Indian boys as they lost 4-0 and crashed out of the tournament. The Gulf of class that still exists between India and the elites of football was evident. At the final whistle, emotions got the better of the boys as tears rolled down their eyes. India’s journey in its maiden world cup campaign came to an unceremonious end.
Heads held high
While India failed to register even a single win in the tournament, some of its players shown through. Dheeraj Singh remained in top form throughout the tournament and was one of the most exciting players in this edition of the world cup. Boris Singh remained a menace on the right flank as his electrifying pace and inch-perfect tackles helped India both offensively and defensively.
Thatal, despite featuring only in a single game showcased his dribbling ability and pace on the break that troubled the defenders. At the heart of the defense, Anwar Ali and Jitendra Singh formed a formidable partnership that drew praise from every coach in the tournament in their post-match conferences.
And last, but not the least, Jeakson Singh, who was overlooked by two other coaches for selection and made it to the current squad only after leading his academy Minerva to a win against the U-17 team in a friendly, will be the one whose name will remain on the lips of football fans for some time to come. With reports of scouts from elite European clubs in attendance, all of the boys have done no harm to their future prospects, while Dheeraj seems to be already in contact with clubs abroad.
India’s first foray in a FIFA World Cup has sown the seed for the future success of the national team in the game. The players now have to make sure to not become complacent and continue their personal development on track. If any of the players from the current squad end being successful at one of the elite clubs of the world, it will be a big boost and a source of inspiration for the upcoming generations. India’s senior national team has also qualified for the upcoming Asian Cup and it’s apparent that Indian football is on an upward spiral.