THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Journey for India U-17s turn boys into men

India U-17 national team (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

History will be scripted for Indian football in less than 24 hours when the Indian U-17 National Team take on USA on October 6, 2017 in their opener of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, recording India’s first ever participation in any FIFA tournament. In retrospect, the journey of the Indian U-17 World Cup squad has seen boys become men, players evolve into better versions of themselves and unity grow exponentially.

When India was given the opportunity to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in its history and selected as hosts in December 2013, many in the current India U-17 squad were still taking baby steps in football and a FIFA World Cup, was something close to a distant dream. Four years later on the eve of the kick-off for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, the Indian squad’s morale is high as ever, the boys who became in men in the process have all glints in their eyes – raring to go – ready to take on the world and ready to prove a point.

“If we can show the world that we are on the same page as them and give each opponent we face a tough fight, then that is a victory in itself,” said Luís Norton de Matos, Head Coach of the India U-17 Team. “The level of the Indian U-17s is very high and the squad is raring to go. Even if there is a five percent chance of winning a match we will give it our all and look to do the impossible.”

The amalgamation of the so called ‘Indian U-17 World Cup Squad’ started soon after December 2013 and the squad, in an effort to field the best possible team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, was given exposure trips of Europe, Africa, South America, Russia and lately Mexico by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Recently the young colts had participated in a Four-Nation Tournament where they faced hosts Mexico, Colombia and Chile.

The journey for every player associated with the Indian U-17 World Cup Squad was unique, some made it into the final 21, some did not, but the feeling of giving their best in every match remained constant, evolutions as player however happened along the way.

“I have grown so much as a player, it is crazy to look back and see from where I started,” said skipper Amarjit Singh. “The exposure trips helped a lot, they enabled us to play some of the best teams in the world and learn from our mistakes.”

For Komal Thatal the journey changed his perspective of football. “I would rather take losing to a very good team 1-0 and learn from our mistakes rather than win 10-0 against an easy team. My perspective of football along the way has completely changed. Winning is important but it is not everything, sometimes winning gets overshadowed by a brilliant performance from the losing side.”

Goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh literally turned from a boy to a man. Looking at his old photo when he first joined the AIFF Academies aged 12, the custodian laughs and says, “I cannot recognize myself. It is amazing how much I have grown, I look like a small kid in this photo.”

“I am happy where I am now and with the FIFA U-17 World Cup at hand I am raring to go. I always had a dream of playing in a FIFA World Cup and now my dream is coming true.”

Coach Matos at the same time wants the players to enjoy on the big stage and “live their dream”.

“The player have sacrificed a lot in this amazing journey and it is a unique moment for Indian football and I am proud to be associated with it. I believe in liberty and responsibility and I want my Players to enjoy on the pitch, yet fight to the very end.”

India has been drawn in Group A of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 alongside USA, Colombia and Ghana. The Indian colts face USA on October 6, followed by Colombia on October 9 and Ghana on October 12 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the capital. All matches are scheduled for an 20.00 IST kick-off.

(AIFF Media)