Under 17 World Cup: India learn first lesson on first dayOctober 7, 2017
NEW DELHI: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was perfectly lit. The pitch was as good as it could be. The opposition was among the best. The supervision was excellent. The preparations, expensive and time-consuming, too matched the usual standards. The perfect Mexican waves flowed across the stands. A perfect setting made all the more prefect by the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, not one pass was perfect when it mattered most.
Given a raucous reception when they entered the pitch, India’s U-17 boys warmed up like champions. However, once the whistle was blown, US captain Josh Sargent and Chris Goslin usurped the show. It was time for the boys in blue sporting saffron socks to chase the shadows. Goslin was too big for N Meetei to win a tackle while winger Komal Thatal’s cross was calmly chested down by James Sands in the US box.
Having had to contend with the pace and strength of Ayo Akinola and Sargent, stopper Jitendra Singh’s hands were more than full. So when Sargent rounded him with a turn of pace, Jitendra could not resist the temptation of pulling the US captain down, inside the box. With Werder Bremen one of his suitors, Sargent did his chances a world of good by slotting it past goalkeeper Dheeraj Moirangthem.
Expectations are similar to speculations in the stock market. They often tend to go beyond the realm of reason. The crowd cheered the young guns and when Thatal chipped the advancing US goalkeeper in the second session, they went bonkers. But the ball looped over the bar.
Chris Durkin, meanwhile, had made it 2-0, reacting fastest to the `second ball’ from a US flag kick.
Yet, there was a lot of running and chasing among the boys in blue. Thatal, with the permed hairdo, ran miles. So did Meetei and Aniket and Stalin and Abhijit. However it all came to a nought. Even at 17, Josh and Tim and Chris and Ayo are built better, have learned the game better and showed far superior control. Luis Norton de Matos, India’s Portuguese coach, introduced Rahim Ali and N Naorem to add some verve. Naorem, working down the left flank, showed his pace with the ball to the delight of the crowd. From a corner that India earned, the US defence switched off for the first time in the match which was then more than 80 minutes old. Anwar Ali waited for the ball to drop kindly and aimed his volley perfectly. Unfortunately, the horizontal came in the way. And from the counter-attack, USA found their third.
Considering it was India’s first competitive experience in the U-17 category, one can swallow the defeat with some hope. Not that the Indian boys did not fight but the difference in quality was hard to conceal.