Three defeats, nine goals conceded, just one scored. In years to come, plain figures wouldn’t quite sum up India’s World Cup debut or the optimism triggered by a bunch of tireless boys in the October of 2017. However, the mention of Komal Thatal, Dheeraj Moirangthem, Jeakson Thounaojam is expected to ring bells in the foreseeable future of Indian football. The Indian colts might not have won a match and Jeakson’s lone header might be all that can be summoned as a glorious memory from the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, but it’s a start.
It was amply clear that India are some way from belonging in this league. But Indian football did manage to put together a one-off plan to prop up its defence, and did keep shape and not get smothered by the three teams it encountered. The good cheer was an added benefit, as was the Indian team’s ability to get the notoriously indifferent Delhi crowd to hike upto the stadium and register a pair of full-houses. Still, no one is blind to how quickly this excitement can evaporate.
This young team needs fresh targets, not just a season in the national league followed by oblivion. Boys and girls as young as under-5 need to be trained in schools in the basics, for the sport is extremely technical before flair starts to impress. Players need to be physically propped up for this high stamina sport.
After sacrificing tradition in the form of Goan and Kolkatan clubs at the altar of the glitzy experiment of ISL, it is AIFF’s responsibility to woo newer fans after losing the old loyalists. Asian teams like Japan and Iran have taken half a century to put together a set-up where qualification to the Senior World Cup doesn’t hinge on hosting it. Being a respected team in Asia should be a realistic target.