What are the chances of the Indian colts lifting the U-17 FIFA World Cup? Who are the players to watch out for? Let’s have a look.
What promises to be the turning point of Indian football, the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Mumbai. This will be the 17th edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the biennial international men’s youth football championship contested by the U17 national teams of the member associations of FIFA.
India will host the prestigious tournament between 6th and 28 October 2017. This will be the first FIFA tournament organized by the country. 24 countries from six confederations will be competing for one of the biggest honors in youth football, with six cities across the country hosting the matches.
Nigeria, the 2015 champions, will not be able to defend their title as they failed to reach the final round of the CAF qualifying tournament (African Cup of Nations). In doing so, they became the first incumbent title holder since Switzerland in 2009 to fail to qualify for the subsequent tournament.
AIFF launched the official emblem on 27 September 2016. They also launched the matches schedule and official slogan (“Football Takes Over”) on 27 March 2017.
ROAD TO THE U-17 FIFA WORLD CUP
The Blue Colts will participate in the U-17 FIFA World Cup for the first time. Being the host nation, they have a chance to take Indian football to new heights. Their journey to the destination, however, has nothing been short of a roller coaster ride.
Here’s a look at their performance in the past one year.
INDIA’S BIZZARE PERFORMANCE UNDER COACH NICOLAI
In October 2016, India hosted the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) football tournament and could not manage even a single win in 4 matches. They lost 1-0 to Russia, South Africa, and China and 3-1 to Brazil. On 15th December, they lost 2-1 Uruguay in a friendly.
Fast forward to what turned out to be Coach Nicolai Adam’s last venture with the Blue Cubs, the results were no different. They lost 5/6 matches against Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Iran, and Tajikistan. The only happy moment was a 1-0 victory against Belarus.
The most humiliating defeat came against Russia as they lost by a whopping margin of 8-0. Right after this tournament, nine months before the U-17 FIFA World Cup, Coach Adam was relieved of his duties.
INDIAN COLTS SEE NEW LIGHT UNDER NEW COACH
SL Benfica ‘B’ coach, Luis Norton de Matos took over the reigns of the Indian U-17 World cup team. The Portuguese started his stint with a few practice matches in Goa before going for the overseas tours. Coach Norton had to face defeat in the very game as the boss of the team when the Blue Cubs lost 1-0 to Minerva U-17.
However, just six days later, the boys quickly turned around the disappointment after comprehensively defeating the Indian U-16 team 5-0.
In April 2017, the Indian Team traveled to Portugal for several friendlies, and the Blue Cubs didn’t have a pleasant outing as they lost 5/6 games and managed a single draw. They lost to SL Benfica U-17 twice, and once to Vitoria de Setubal U-17, Belenenses U-17, Estoril U-17, and Sporting CP U-17 each.
Continuing their European tour, in the first half of May, India played two friendlies against Paris Saint Leu U-17 and Italy U-17. They drew 1-1 and won 2-0 respectively. The 2-0 win was India’s major success under Coach Norton.
In the second half of May, the Indian U-17 team participated in the Lazio Cup in Italy. The team played three matches out of which, they held Lega Pro U-17 to a 1-1 draw, Lazio U-17 to a nil-nil draw and defeated Vakmontone City with a comprehensive scoreline of 3-0.
One week after the culmination of the Lazio Cup, India U-17 annihilated Grund 1986 FC U-17 in a 12-2 victory. They played a few more friendlies. They drew to Serbia U-17 FC and Macedonia U-17, lost 2-2 to Alcorcon U-17 and clinched a stellar victory of 11-0 against Complutense Alcala U-17.
In the first week of August, the Indian U-17 team participated in the “Torneo de 4 Naciones” tournament in Mexico. The Colts had a disappointing tournament as they lost 5-1 and 3-0 against Mexico U-17 and Colombia U-17 respectively. However, they did manage to hold Chile U-17 to a 1-1 draw.
Earlier in the month, India U-17 defeated India U-19 and Mauritius 3-1 and 3-0 respectively.
The AIFF has spent more than ₹10 Crores since the beginning of 2015 in organizing ‘exposure’ trips abroad for the development of the squad. It is evident that the Indian U-17 team has done extremely well under Coach Norton in comparison to their performance under Coach Nicolai Adam.
They have clinched victory against a few big nations in the recent, and it’d be interesting to see if they can carry their form into the all-important tournament.
KEY PLAYERS for India at the U-17 FIFA World Cup:
The AIFF will be sending a strong squad for the tournament that starts in less than a week’s time. The football association recently announced a 21-man squad that will fight for the elusive trophy. Who are the key players who will be carrying the onus of getting closer to the coveted title step by step?
Let’s have a look.
GUARDIANS OF THE GOALPOST:
Guarding the goal post, the team will have three tall and vigorous options in the names of Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Prabhukushan Singh Gill, an NRI from Toronto, Sunny Dhaliwal.
Dheeraj Singh was once a badminton lover, but soon switched from the racquet sport to goalkeeping gloves when he got his breakthrough with Manipur local team at the age of 11. He was eventually picked up for the U-14 Indian team after joining the AIFF academy. He is India’s most reliant goalkeeper.
Standing tall at 6 feet 5 inches, India will have the services of Toronto FC goalkeeper, Sunny Dhaliwal. Dhaliwal has been so impressive that he has earned invitations from Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs DC United and Chicago Fire for trial. He will certainly be a player to look out for.
THE WALL OF INDIA
Forming the wall of defense for India will be Boris Singh Thangjam, Jitendra Singh, Anwar Ali, Sanjeev Stalin, Hendry Antonay and Namit Sandeep Deshpande.
Boris Singh, who has made over 25 appearances for India, will be one of India’s main wing-back. The ever hard-working and diligent lad from Imphal, who started off playing football with a tennis ball in school, will now represent India at the U-17 FIFA World Cup.
Football runs in the blood of India’s ever-reliable center back, Jitendra Singh. Not only him but both his brothers also play club level football. The 16-year-old defender from Kolkata has also been chosen as the vice-captain of the team and will be deputy to skipper Amarjit Singh Kiyam.
Alongside Jitendra, Minerva boy, Anwar Ali will be holding India’s rearguard. Son of a cowherd, this tall defender hails from Punjab. He took up football at the age of 7 when he started playing for the Damshesh Sports Club. At the age of 12, he represented the prestigious Mahilpul Football Academy and was spotted by the AIFF. Ever since there was no looking back for him as Anwar’s progress graph only went uphill. He then played for the India U-14 team before getting selected for Minerva. It was only until last year that Anwar was selected for the national squad. He is definitely the player to look out for.
You just can’t keep out India’s free-kick specialist, the 16-year old from Bengaluru, Sanjeev Stalin. The ambidextrous left-back has a unique liking towards the dead ball, and he sure knows how to express his love grandly. He joined the Chandigarh Football Academy at the age of 11. Former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan player, Jamshid Nassiri spotted the young talent at a U-13 tournament in Bengaluru. Ever since, former India professional, Harjinder Singh has been training Stalin. He has helped him become the player he is today. Besides Stalin, US-based NRI Namit Deshpande and Henry Antonay will play center-backs for the Indian Colts. Namit, the New-Jersey based boy who originally hails from Mumbai, was scouted back to India in July and would look to play to his strengths.
GET THOSE THINKING HEADS ON, MIDFIELDERS!
The brain of any football team lies in its midfield. Midfielders receive the ball from defense, and it’s the job of the midfield, the brain of the team or the play-makers, to pass the ball to the strike force with the help of the wingers. Fortunately enough, India U-17 squad has a formidable midfield. Suresh Singh, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Abhijit Sarkar, Komal Thatal, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, and Md. Shahjahan will take command in the midfield.
India’s ex-captain Suresh Singh Wangjam is at the heart of the midfield. With strong upper body and agility, the vibrant midfielder from Manipur is capable of turning the table. Wangjam is an intelligent passer of the ball but often loses the ball due to excess pace and sub-standard control. He is a goal-scorer by heart. Who can forget his 97th-minute penalty against Saudi Arabia in the thrilling 3-3 draw? India will be heavily relying on Wangjam to run into spaces and create chances for India.
Another pacy midfielder who will share the responsibility of creating chances and scoring goals with Wangjam is Komal Thatal. The ever quick midfielder/ attacker from Manipur is India’s top goal scorer. He has scored eight goals in competitive matches. His knack for scoring goals accompanied with efficient dribbling skills have brought numerous goals to India. He would look to emulate those performances in the world cup.
The Indian team voted for their leader and the result was shocking. Amarjit Singh Kiyam was pleasantly surprised to find out that his teammates entrust him with this duty. Hailing from Thoubal District of Manipur, Kiyam fell in love with football. At the age of 9 in 2010, he enrolled himself at the Chandigarh Football Academy. Kiyam’s parents could barely afford his training. At the academy, he was provided with free food, schooling, and accommodation. He relieved his parents off a lot of stress. In 2015, the national selectors picked him up for AIFF academy in Goa during one of the exposure trips organized by CFA.
From 2015, Kiyam has been training at the same academy. We hope he will outperform the opponents and lead the team to victory.
INDIA TO ATTACK WITH ALL GUNS BLAZING
The main strike force of India at the U-17 FIFA World Cup team consists of Mohammad Rahim Ali and Aniket Anil Jadhav.
Hailing from Manipur, Rahim Ali is one of India’s most reliable striker.
Sharing the onus of scoring goals with him will be the squad’s most prolific player, Aniket Jadhav. Born on 13th July 2000 in Kolhapur in Maharashtra, Aniket started playing for his school, Krida Prabodhini School, Pune at the age of 8. He was selected to play for FC Pune’s U-15 team and gradually moved up into the U-17 and U-19 team.
Aniket managed to brake into the footballing scene only in 2014. That’s when represented India in the FC Bayern Munich Youth Cup at 14.
Jadhav established himself as a reliable striker and is definitely en route to becoming India’s next goal machine.
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH BOYS
India will kick-start their U-17 FIFA World Cup campaign against the United States of America. The tournament will mark the end of a long wait too.
In the 77 football world cups held so far, including men’s and women’s events across senior and age-group football, over 87 years, India has neither hosted or nor participated in one.
Fortunately enough, all this will change on the 6th of October. It will be interesting to see whether the Blue Cubs will make use of their long balls passing and quick wing play prowess and give other nations a run for their money.
Let’s hope that Kheleo, the official Mascot, brings luck to the Indian side and helps them surpass this mountain of a challenge.