Sports

U17 Football World Cup, in which India is no longer a participant



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.

                            

(From top left) Rahim Ali, Namit Deshpande, Anwar Ali, Dheeraj Moirangthem (Goal Keeper), Abhijit Sarkar, Jeakson Thounaojam, Rahul Kannoly, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Boris Thangjam, Sanjeev Stalin, Amarjit Kiyam (Captain).

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.

Euphoria

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.




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