Future of Indian Football in Safe Hands Because of Our U-17 Stars

The Indian U-17 stars have given their best in their first two games of the FIFA World Cup.

4 min read
Colombia’s Gustavo Carvajal (left) and India’s Jackson Singh Thounaojam (right) jump for a header during the FIFA U-17 World Cup match. (Photo: AP)

India is currently at the 107th place in FIFA rankings. The country hadn’t played a single FIFA World Cup prior to the 2017 U-17 World Cup.

When India qualified for the 1950 FIFA World Cup, the football authorities of the country didn’t know the importance of the competition and therefore withdrew from the tournament, according to AlJazeera.

We had no idea about the World Cup then. Had we been better informed, we would have taken the initiative ourselves. For us, the Olympics was everything. There was nothing bigger.
Sailen Manna, India’s prospective FIFA World Cup captain in 1950, told AlJazeera

However, by 2015, India knew the importance of a FIFA World Cup, and therefore bagged the hosting rights for the U-17 World Cup.

The Indian team attend a practice session. (Photo Courtesy: AIFF)
The Indian team attend a practice session. (Photo Courtesy: AIFF)

India entered the tournament by virtue of being the hosts of the competition. What were fans in India supposed to expect from such a team? Was India just going to participate in the tournament?

Enter October 2017, and the young Indian stars showed their mettle and competed with all their heart in their first two games against USA and Colombia.

The young brigade showed the world that they can go toe-to-toe with countries who play football regularly.

India may not qualify for the next round of the competition, but they have certainly reassured that the future of Indian football is currently in very good hands.

Putting Teams Under Pressure

 Jeakson Singh scores India’s first-ever FIFA World Cup goal. (Photo: PTI)
Jeakson Singh scores India’s first-ever FIFA World Cup goal. (Photo: PTI)

The two teams India have played so far – USA and Colombia – have been in the international football circuit for several years. The United States of America also have a popular football league – Major League Soccer.

Prior to this tournament, USA and Colombia had made 15 and five appearances respectively at the U-17 World Cup.

Though the teams carried so much pedigree, the Indian U-17 side found a way to make inroads into their opponent’s team. They have not only been interested in defending their goal, but also to make planned attacks.

In the first game against USA, Komal Thatal strategically moved past American defenders in the left wing region to find ways to score a goal.

In the second match, India came close to scoring two more goals, not just the one scored by Jeakson Singh. In the 15th minute, striker Abhijit Sarkar and defender Boris Singh played out a one-two strategy before Sarkar’s shot was saved by the Colombian goalkeeper.

During the stoppage period of the first half, Boris was in action again. And this time, his partner in crime was midfielder Rahul KP.

Boris chipped the ball to Rahul, who positioned himself perfectly to take a shot. Rahul received the ball on his chest and struck a volley on the bounce. Unfortunately, the ball hit the bar.

We were struggling at the beginning. We were forced to make many tactical adjustments.
Orlando Restrepo, coach, Colombia

Super Keeper Dheeraj

Dheeraj Singh take a picture with fans in New Delhi. (Photo: AP)
Dheeraj Singh take a picture with fans in New Delhi. (Photo: AP)

The player of the tournament for the Indian team so far has to be the goalkeeper, Dheeraj Singh. The Manipuri boy, who made at least three great saves during the match against USA, not only impressed the Indian fans but was praised by the coach of the US team as well.

Both their centre-backs played well and so did the goalkeeper. He made several saves that kept India in the game.
John Hackworth, coach, USA
Even in the second game, Dheeraj saved five out of seven shots on target. India could have lost by much bigger margins in both the games if Dheeraj wasn’t at his absolute best.

Dheeraj has the ability to dive to save goals and also punch the ball away when a corner kick is made. If he stays fit and motivated, the Indian team could have a very skillful goalkeeper in the future.

Toe-To-Toe With a Club Player

India’s Nongdamba Naorem in action. (Photo: AP)
India’s Nongdamba Naorem in action. (Photo: AP)

Timothy Weah may have signed a contract with French club Paris Saint-Germain, but that did not deter Indian midfielder Nongdamba Naorem to deceive the American star.

When Naorem found himself in a one-on-one tussle with Weah, he gave an impression that he is moving to his left and then suddenly moved to his right to go past the player, leaving Weah behind.

I was very surprised they (India) played really well because I have never played against any Indian team. I thought they were really good. They are good technically also. There were small errors. I think they have a very good team for the future also. They have talent and they are going to compete against the best in the world. They hit on the crosspiece once and they never gave up. If I meet the Indian players in the team hotel, I will respect them and tell them they had a great match.
Timothy Weah

With the Right Attitude, India Can Go Places

In this tournament, there are about six players, who have impressed everyone with their skills. But the real test lies ahead.

Before the start of the competition, India’s coach, Luis Norton de Matos, had said that at least eight players from the U-17 team should make it to the senior team.

If the present U-17 stars continue to train smartly and gain enough experience, India can finally start competing fiercely at the highest level.

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