The last seven days have been extremely exhausting, though memorable, for India, who played their maiden FIFA World Cup tournament in the U-17 category. India, who qualified automatically for being the host country, saw the best and worst of Indian football in this one week. The lads in blue lived a dream that made even the senior players jealous. The country’s footballing spirit came out since the start of the tournament on October 6 as fans came out in huge numbers to watch and support their biggest moment in the sport take place in front of their eyes. From football enthusiasts to celebrities, support poured on the selected young players from all parts of the country. For a few days, the country forgot their religion – cricket. India played three groupstage matches before bowing out of the tournament, going down 3-0 against USA, 2-1 against Colombia and finally 4-0 against Ghana.
Here are the five talking points from India’s journey in the FIFA World Cup U-17 for the first time:
India display surprisingly impressive skills
India’s opening and second match was a pleasant surprise for their own country, who were impressed by the Colts’ impressive skills. Luis Norton de Matos’ side not only drew the interest of the cricket-crazy nation but also attracted eyeballs from two of the biggest clubs in world – Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. There have also been reports that Turkish giants Galatasaray attended India’s match against Ghana, eyeing a potential spot for inclusion within their Youth Academy setup.
A number of players have done remarkably well in the ongoing tournament. From keeper Dheeraj Singh to captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam, the side has made news for showing grit against big teams. Among others, Komal Thatal, Jeakson Singh, Aniket Jadhav and Anwar Ali have become known names through the tournament.
India’s first FIFA World Cup goal against Colombia
Indian football history was created on Monday night at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi as midfielder Jeakson Thounaojam netted India’s first goal in a FIFA World Cup. Trailing 1-0 to Colombia in the second half, India won a corner that Jeakson headed home. His short-lived equaliser sent the home crowd into raptures. Few minutes before, nobody knew about a lad called Jeakson. After the match, the entire country talked about him. And why wouldn’t they? He gave the country devoid of football love and attention some hope. Hope that India will one day be a football giant, a football power to reckon with.
Fun fact: Jeakson hails from Manipur but is fluent in Punjabi and is the cousin of India U-17 captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam.
The great wall of India – Dheeraj
Dheeraj Singh’s Neuer-like saves and determination has impressed critics and fans alike. His interventions and crucial saves have ensured respectable scorelines (not against Ghana though). He was expected to be the busiest of the players on the field. His resolve with long rangers was tested throughout the tournament. The 5’9″ tall lad also sought praise from Baichung Bhutia, who said, “Dheeraj is the most improved player since I last watched them play. He is India’s stalwart at the back. He is not only India’s find of the tournament, but of the World Cup, in my opinion.”
India’s physical inferiority in front of other teams
Size does matter. Yes, there are world-class footballers who do not have the build of athletes like Lionel Messi but those happen to be excecptions. Those happen to be few in the team. If the entire team looks weak and meagre, the team would not survive for long. Indian colts had the skills but were too light-weight to buckle under pressure. Let’s take the example of Komal Thatal in the match against USA. He displayed sublime skills but the ball was always snatched from him by the mightier opponents. And even de Matos realises this weakness. “You cannot be a good gymnast if you are very tall or you cannot be an excellent basketball player if you are of 160 metres. For certain positions, height and size does matter,” he had said.
House full yet still empty
There was a lot of confusion among the fans as well as the media when the FIFA U-17 World Cup refused to sell more tickets saying that the stadium was sold out but there were clearly thousands of empty seats. After reports suggested that the government bought tickets to avoid an embarassing situation, the Local Organising Committee released a statement saying, “A ticket is sold for a particular match day and not for either of the games. A good example for this would be the match days one and two at the New Delhi venue even though tickets were sold out for the opening fixtures (5.00 pm kick-off) on both days, the stands were sparsely filled. The second game (8.00 pm kick-off) which featured the hosts, however, had more people attending it making the stands seem more filled.” Another reason given for not selling every seat ticket was security concerns as FIFA rules state that any person sitting in the stadium should be able to reach a safe space in eight minutes.