U-17 football world cup is yet to be over but the host nation has already made an exit from the mega event after three consecutive losses to the USA, Colombia and Ghana respectively. Our part as a host continues even though as a team we had an early sayonara from the prestigious event.
There is a mixed reaction among fans. Some who expected less are alright with the results as they think that at least we got a chance to participate in a FIFA event for the first time in any format. Others are criticising loudly and harshly, putting across how the state of the game is poor in the country, highlighting the fact that the country with a million cannot put in a group of 11 who can show some fighting spirit.
Both groups are partially correct. Look at the rankings of the men’s Indian national football team. It’s a lowly 107. Look at our grass root infrastructure for the game. It hardly exists. The U-17 football team were the first bunch of colts for which the AIFF spent a good amount of money. With an idea to put forward some sort of show on a football pitch in the mega event, AIFF got them a decent coach and foreign exposure by making them play in Europe, America and Asia. These young guns too showed improvement. They played some good football in the last two years while playing against Serbia, Russia, Mexico, USA and clubs in Europe.
But remind you, we got an automatic qualification by virtue of being the host. We didn’t rub shoulders with the best to qualify for the world cup, and thankfully so.
We lost all the matches but the scorelines don’t say it all. 3-0, 2-1 and 4-0 drubbing show how we were thrashed. But had you seen the matches you would have realised how hard these guys played. Despite all their opponents being way highly ranked and strong physically and in skill, they did their best. Especially against Colombia who made it to the last 16. The Indian team lost the plot to Colombia only in the last 10 minutes, that too by small margin
We take away some stars of the future of out of this bunch. Topping the list is a man under the bars called Dheeraj. What a player. India conceded many goals but this guy skillfully and valiantly stopped many more. He is a world class keeper. I won’t be surprised if he is scouted by top European clubs to defend the goal post. When Gurpreet Singh Sandhu ages, Dheeraj can aptly move into his shoes. The other players who were impressive were star forwards Komal Thatal, probably the next Sunil Chhetri, Boris, Anwar, Jeakson and Rahul. They have shown skill and determination to be the next generation and if they are rightly invested and utilised, the future of Indian football is in good hands.
For me, this world cup is like a tasty topping on a football pizza which is being deliciously baked. Indian football at the senior level had moved up by 77 ranks this year. They qualified for the top tier AFC Asian Cup 2019 by topping and remaining unbeaten in their pool.
Club football has tasted another silver spoon all thanks to the ISL. Corporations, especially Reliance, have invested heavily. Indian players are rubbing shoulders with international players at the domestic level. Fans are coming and supporting in huge numbers. Players in the country have started to see future in the game.
More academies are being set by corporates and international clubs which have already started nurturing and shaping the kids the right way. With this FIFA U-17 World Cup, Indian football has come on the world map. More events are expected in the country after this.
We might have lost matches, but it’s win-win situation for us. We can see that Indian football is rising.
“Chota sa ek parinda pankh maar raha,
Der nahi us baat ki jab hawaon pe mast maula udega”