Jeakson Made History But Keeper Dheeraj Looks One For The Future
Jeakson entered the record books but Dheeraj and Anwar Ali’s performances stole the show at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
India’s hopes of qualifying to the Round of 16 at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup received a massive setback on Monday as Colombia beat the valiant Colts 2-1 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
Luís Norton de Matos made four changes to the Indian side, that started against the USA in the opener on Friday. Boris Thangjam was restored at right back with Rahul Kannoly pushed further up the pitch on the left. Namit Deshpande replaced Jitendra Singh in central defence.
A tall striker-poacher in Rahim Ali was preferred and Jeakson Singh partnered captain Amarjit in midfield – the duo selected in place of Aniket Jadhav and Suresh Singh.
The hosts had a bright start to the evening and could have been two goals up in the first half, courtesy Abhijit Sarkar and Rahul. The Colombian keeper made a crucial stop for the former, while woodwork denied the lanky Kerala boy a stunner.
Juan Penaloza gave Colombia the lead just after half-time, capitalising on a lapse in concentration by Sanjeev Stalin. India refused to give up. Egged on by a boisterous home crowd, the hosts hunted for an equaliser. With 81 minutes gone, Sanjeev stepped up to take a corner.
Jeakson, who was unmarked, leapt up and headed into the net, scripting history by becoming the first Indian to score a goal in a FIFA event – at a World Cup, no less!
The ground shook beneath the delirious Indian supporters, but a cruel twist of fate was yet to come. Penaloza broke a billion hearts with his second goal of the game, barely a minute after Jeakson’s equaliser, sealing 3 points for the visitors.
Dheeraj, Anwar Steal the Show
It is rare to see a player enter the record books without being the best player on the pitch.
Jeakson Singh was mighty impressive in the centre of the park alongside his skipper, winning back possession and remaining calm when under pressure from the Colombian attack. However, such was the solidity of Dheeraj Singh and Anwar Ali’s performances that they stole the show despite the historic goal.
The Manipuri lad received special praise from the USA coach following his outstanding showing on Friday and he picked up from where he left-off, thwarting the South Americans on more than one occasion. He was definitely the busier of the two keepers as Colombia had 18 shots on goal, albeit only seven on target.
Dheeraj’s fine interventions and crucial saves not only kept his side in the game, it also ensured a respectable scoreline.
Jaminton Campaz and Yadir Meneses would have given Orlando Restrepo’s charges two goals in the first half were it not for the Indian keeper’s sharp reflexes, palming off both shots within minutes of each other.
Whisper it, but at times, Dheeraj reminded one of Manuel Neuer (yes, the only one), with his darting runs off the line and sweeping-keeping abilities. Any misjudgement could prove costly when a keeper leaves his posts unguarded but Dheeraj’s self-assurance and timing of interceptions are perfect.
This one’s a keeper (pun intended). If his performances are anything to go by, there should be a bunch of clubs – not just domestic – lining up for the teenager’s signature. Exciting times ahead.
Along with Dheeraj, India’s other stellar performer on the night was a rock in defence and his name is Anwar Ali (namesake of the erstwhile India international defender). The ponytailed centre-back is rarely unnerved, his calm and reassuring demeanour belying his young age.
Anwar’s clean tackles and timely interception saved India a lot of blushes. He marshalled his area as well as his teammates effectively, leading by example with his actions.
Boris Thangjam was a delight on the right flank, and if not for India’s profligacy and ill luck, could have had two assists to his name, courtesy Abhijit and Rahul.
While the young Blues glittered as a team, a handful of gems shone brighter than the rest. Besides the three mentioned above and record-maker Jeakson, Rahul, Amarjit and Khumanthem Ninthoiganba were a special joy to watch and thoroughly deserve a shout out for their perseverance, commitment and output.
De Matos’ Tactical Changes Show He’s a Quick Learner
The Portuguese coach sprung a surprise of sorts by benching Komal Thatal, opting for physicality and finishing over dribbles and eye-catchy displays. The preference for Rahim over Aniket was also a strong message that India would not cow down to their far more physically superior and experienced opponents.
The shift in tactics paid dividends as Namit looked more solid than Jitendra in central defence while Rahul was a willing and fierce attacking outlet multiple times in the first half. Jeakson kept the midfield ticking by retaining and recycling possession, while the Colts in general refused to be bullied off the ball.
De Matos’ changes could have yielded a win, or at least a point on Monday night, if only the youngsters had maintained composure for the final minutes of the game. However, more than the result itself, the fact that he benched Komal and the others is testimony to his willingness to learn, adapt and improve this team.
That he has managed to get this bunch of 21 together, playing together for the cause of the team – that too in such resilient fashion and in a short span of eight months is further proof of the man’s mettle.
Indian football: Huge Positives But a Work-in-Progress
One of the biggest positives of India hosting this tournament is not only mere participation in their first FIFA tournament but that a group of teenagers have provided hope and excitement for Indian football.
Local media and coaches have long touted India’s football talent and bemoaned the lack of infrastructure and support; now is the time to rectify the mistakes.
De Matos’ appointment and a few months of exposure to football outside of the continent have done wonders to the confidence and ability of this Indian team. It is time to build on this by identifying the best players and sending them abroad on loans, ensuring that the game is played all year around and not just in fits and spurts before important tournaments.
India will also need to work on being clinical and retaining control of the ball.
The AIFF will also do well to ensure that the Portuguese is here to stay beyond the duration of the World Cup. Stability and consistency of coaching and learning methods will have a big hand in getting this team to the upper echelons of the game. After all, they are India’s future!
India’s road to glory in football is long but on current evidence, the journey promises to be fun.
(Maya Mahadevan is currently a freelancer, who hopes to carve a niche for herself in the world of journalism – through sports writing or storytelling. Football and tennis are her joint first-love. She also has an interest in hockey and badminton. A financial analyst by profession (engineering followed by an MBA), her other areas of interest include travelling, listening to music and reading. The writer can be reached at @mayamahadevan)
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