As we get closer to a month of never seen before international football action in India, spirits are high and people can hardly contain their excitement for the international mega event. The 21 member team has been announced, comprising of the best young talents in a country, they have a huge responsibility and the aspirations of the country on their shoulders. The players seem confident after a thorough ‘exposure’ tour to put in everything required and show their talents on the pitch.
It is the 1st time ever that a team representing India will participate in the finals of a FIFA organised world tournament, let alone the U 17 World Cup.
The Dark Past
The Colts have been 7-time entrants into AFC U16 championship which is held the year previous to the U17 world event. Ousted in the group stage each time except once in 2002 held in UAE, India progressed to the quarter-finals only to be humbled by eventual champions, Republic of Korea.
The only silverware India U16 has won is the 2013 South Asian Football Federation U16 championship in Nepal. The Colts ended up as runners-up in both 2011 and 2015 in south Asian Zone Youth competition.
Road to U17 world cup
With a country of 1.7 billion people and enormous talent, the odds of India qualifying for the U17 world cup were stacked against them if not for being the host country. With the biggest opportunity to seize, the All India Football Federation made sure that the teenagers got enough match practice, before the first match in the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship in Goa. India would be a part of the World Cup anyway but the continental event turned out sour for Nicolai Adam’s boys at home as they ended up last in their group with a solitary point.
Even during the U-16 AIFF Youth Cup and BRICS U-17 Cup at home, India could only manage two draws, losing to Tanzania, Russia, China and Brazil on either side of the AFC Championship.
After a disappointing Granatkin Cup in Russia, Nicolai Adam was relieved of his duties just 8 months prior to the main event. Luis Norton de Matos was appointed in February 2017 to lead the nation to its maiden entry into the world stage.
The Blue Cubs’ Preparation for the U17 World Cup
The AIFF has spent more than ₹ 10 crores since early 2015 in organising ‘exposure’ trips abroad for the development of the squad. During the Nicolai Adam era, the team travelled to Germany, winning 8 of 14 games before the 2015 U-16 SAFF Championship, where they lost to hosts Bangladesh in the final.
Tours to Spain, Dubai, South Africa, Brazil and yet another seven weeks in Germany summed up the 2016 calendar year. All this revolved around the AFC U-16 Championships, AIFF Youth Cup and the U-17 BRICS tourney – all in Goa.
Ending bottom of the pile in the 16-team tournament signalled the end of Nicolai Adam’s tenure and Luis Norton de Matos’ appointment instilled a renewed hope for the cubs.
India U-17 crisscrossed through Europe playing teams from Paris, Serbia, Macedonia and Spain. Participants in the Lazio Cup, the team remained unbeaten in the three games. Their most famous win came against an assembled Italy U-17 XI, comprising of youth players from clubs in Lega Pro and Lega Pro 2.
The team touched down in New Delhi on 1st July after a gruelling European campaign, remaining unbeaten in their last nine games before the final game defeat to Alcorcon U-17.
India is in Group A with USA, COLOMBIA and GHANA. The first match is to be played with the USA at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Delhi followed by a match with Colombia on the 9th and Ghana on the 12th.
Players to look out for
- Amarjit Singh Kiyam from Manipur, the captain elected through a process of secret ballot engineered by coach Matos is the most experienced in the team with 29 appearances. Coming from a humble family he strives for excellence in midfield and controls delivery of the ball from deep.
- 16-year-old Sanjeev Stalin from Bengaluru commands midfield play and is likely to be the option in the central defence though he can play on the left also. He is also a set-piece specialist.
- Boris Singh Thangjam from Imphal plays wingback, likely to play on the left wing is a speedster and brings the option of fast wing attack.
- Aniket Jadhav from Kolhapur, Maharashtra is the first choice striker having scored in crucial games. Having superb poaching capabilities and the ability to use both feet he is a great asset in front of goal.
- 16-year-old Jitendra Singh from Uttarakhand but born and brought up in Kolkata is a wall in defence with huge upper body strength and a crucial player for the team.
There are two non-resident Indians amongst the 21 member team. Namit Deshpande from the USA and Sunny Dhaliwal from Canada who gave up his Canadian passport to play for the Indian team. A total of eight players from Manipur made the first team bringing to the fore the kind of talent available in the eastern part of the country.
All these talents have the same passion for football and of making the country proud by giving their best in this competition and making it all the way with the senior Indian team one day.
A total of 24 countries from six confederations would be taking part in the competition which starts on the 6th of October to the 28th of October. It will be held across six cities- Kochi, Guwahati, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Goa.
Unfortunately, a few of the footballing superpowers failed to qualify for this competition, even Nigeria the current title holders fumbled in the qualifiers. These six major countries are- Italy, Uruguay, Nigeria, Argentina, Australia.
GOALKEEPERS: Dheeraj Singh, Prabhsukhan Gill, Sunny Dhaliwal
DEFENDERS: Boris Singh, Jitendra Singh, Anwar Ali, Sanjeev Stalin, Hendry Antonay, Namit Deshpande
MIDFIELDERS: Suresh Singh, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Abhijit Sarkar, Komal Thatal, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Md. Shahjahan
FORWARDS: Rahim Ali, Aniket Jadhav