The 40,000-odd crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium experienced a see-saw of emotions as the Indian colts suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss against Colombia in their second group stage encounter of the FIFA Under 17 World Cup. On a sultry evening in Delhi, the boys in blue put a valiant effort to secure a win but fell agonisingly short of creating history as they bowed out of their first-ever FIFA tournament. Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, however, was the bright spot of the night as he etched his name in history books by becoming the first Indian player to score a goal in a FIFA World Cup across age groups. But a brace from Juan Penaloza broke the Indian hearts and helped Colombia keep its campaign alive.
After suffering a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of USA in the first match of the group stage, India began their second match on a positive note. There was a marked change in India’s approach in their match against Colombia as they began the match with a 4-4-2 combination. While in the previous match coach Luis Norton de Matos opted for a defensive approach, on Monday, India displayed an attacking brand of football from the early part of the first half. The match witnessed an indifferent start, as Colombia began the first half on the front foot and made the initial attack but as minutes passed by India looked far more comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Soon with a lively JLN crowd behind them, India looked menacing in the attack as Ninthoinganba Meetei made consistent runs down the flank and probed the Colombian defence. But it was the home side which came closest to open the score in the 12th minute of the match when number 10, Abhijit Sarkar had a sublime one-touch play, beating the Colombia defenders and was left one on one with the keeper. However, to the disappointment of the crowd, his shot went straight to the goalkeeper who parried it wide. Towards the end of the first half, India had yet another golden chance at gaining the lead when Kerala’s, Rahul Kannoly had a massive opportunity of putting India ahead. Another beautiful pass by Boris saw him one on one with the goalkeeper but his volley hit the crossbar and the scoreline remained tied at 0-0 at halftime. Despite Colombia having the majority of the possession (68%) in the first half the Indian defenders put in a good performance, to keep the opposition attackers at bay. Goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh also pulled off a couple of saves to keep India in the hunt for a win.
Much like the start of the first half, Colombia began the second half on the offensive. But this time they went one step further and punished India by scoring the opening goal of the match. Once again it was Juan Penaloza who hit a curled one with his with his left-foot which saw the ball whiz past goalkeeper Dheeraj into the net at the 48th minute. This prompted India to react with a flurry of attacks but they were unable to put the ball into the net. Colombia, meanwhile, opted to go on the defensive and soak the pressure. An hour into the match and India made their first change as Abhijit Sarkar made way for Aniket Jadhav. The introduction of Jadhav saw India penetrate deep into the opponents’ half.
India’s mounting pressure finally paid off in the 82nd minute when Jeakson Thounaojam, got the breakthrough with a thunderous header leading the stadium to erupt in deafening cheers. Jeakson was left unmarked at the nearpost and he coolly put the ball into the net past a hapless Kevin Mier. Sadly, India’s joy, was short-lived as Penaloza scored a minute later snatching back Colombia’s lead. India had paid the price for inexperience and what followed was a deathly silence. Thereafter, the home side tried hard to come back into the match but it was too little too late. The final whistle brought an end to India’s campaign and they were left wondering where they went wrong. But all said and done they will be proud of themselves as they gave in their all into this match and made the entire country proud.
Later in the night, Coach Luis Norton de Matos would go on to applaud the efforts of his boys and say that he will sleep with a sentiment that his players did really well. But he was quick to point out that what India needs is consistency and more experience at the international level. “We are strong in organization and had good concentration. But after scoring the goal we went in a dream and that cost us. But the boys did not have that experience. After scoring they wanted to win and it cost us. But that is all right and I can sleep peacefully as the players put in their best and I am proud of them. We need to keep working the same way in the future and I hope these players will go a long wayThis team has a fantastic future
Reserving special applause for goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh, de Matos said, “He is improved a lot and can go on to play in the first league in Spain and Premier League.”
Goalscorer of the evening Jeakson Singh Thounaojam recalled his moment of scoring India’s first goal at the World Cup and said, “It was a nice experience and I felt on cloud nine when I scored the goal, however, we tried our best but were unlucky. It is obviously a great feeling to score for my country in a FIFA World Cup but it would have been sweeter had we won the match. To me, in fact, it does not even matter as long as we score”
“We deserved a result, and we tried our very best to get it but in the process, we learned a huge lesson what International Football is all about”