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Komal Thatal, the name on everyone’s lips in FIFA U-17 World Cup

Hailing from Sikkim — where Bhaichung Bhutia came from — Komal Thatal made a quick impression on the incorrigible Delhi crowd.

India vs USA, IND vs USA, Komal Thatal, FIFA U 17 World Cup, U 17 world cup, football news, indian express Komal Thatal’s many runs down the left flank raised hopes of a miracle at first, and some consolation later. (Source: PTI)

Their first football World Cup match brought out the good, bad and the ugly in the Delhi crowd. While a reassuring percentage egged on the hosts on every convincing move, ebbing and flowing with the game, there was a section whose biggest takeaway was: “Ye na dribble kar sakte hain, na bhaag sakte hain, na pass kar sakte hain”, and so on. Then there were the uncles who didn’t know which team was India and the goofball in the Ronaldo jersey who ran in at the end of the game.

Winning over such a mixed bag was always going to be a tough ask. The India U-17 team succeeded to an extent, but one player stood out head and shoulders above all.

Komal Thatal’s flashy, faux-blond hairdo caught the fancy of the casuals and his many runs down the left flank raised hopes of a miracle at first, and some consolation later. A misconnected lob in the second half nearly put India on the board and left the patronising few shouting “Komal ko do ball” for the remainder of the game.

Hailing from Sikkim — where Bhaichung Bhutia came from — Komal made a quick impression on the incorrigible Delhi crowd. When he would dribble past a bunch of defenders and extricate himself out of those restricting webs, the decibel levels in the stadium would pick up. No matter how newbie the crowd, Komal’s skills would only be missed by those obtuse or simply not looking up.

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His is a humble backstory, with parents who run a tiny tailor’s shop back home, selling garments. Komal hadn’t taken long to make an impression on the football field, though most of India would’ve missed the occasion. Playing against Brazil in the BRICS tournament last year, Komal had been the only Indian to net a goal against the fancied side. Komal’s work rate and fluency on the left wing were first noticed at that under-17 tournament in Goa last year. The midfielder scored against a Brazil team comprising the same players who are here for the World Cup. In that match, he collected the ball on the left and weaving past two defenders, scored with his right foot.

That had been a gem of a strike for the attacking midfielder who can singlehandedly get a nation hooked to the sport dragging the team along in his wake. He has a knack of going undetected under the defenders — which obviously makes him stand out to the crowd.

On Friday, he did everything else apart from scoring.

Last to walk off the pitch at the end of the 90 minutes, Komal was greeted by increasingly loud chants of his name — making the 16-year-old footballer the second person to have his name chanted on the night after the country’s Prime Minister. Still despondent, Komal proceeded to walk towards the fans and oblige those requesting for selfies before FIFA officials stepped in and ushered him away.

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If rumours are to be believed, English Premier League’s biggest brand Manchester United are interested in Komal and are tracking his exploits at the ongoing competition. There’s no way of knowing if he impressed any scouts, but Komal did win over the Delhi crowd on Friday. Some would say the latter is the tougher bunch to please.

First published on: 07-10-2017 at 01:32 IST
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