The evening began on an electric note with Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeting both the Indian and the USA team alongside India’s Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, FIFA VP Sheikh Salman and FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura.
The India U-17 team was welcomed with an electric atmosphere, and even though they tried to hold their own, the more experienced USA took advantage of a nervous debut.
As expected, veterans at this stage USA began the game the stronger of the two sides, but Dheeraj Singh literally stood tall against the rampaging Josh Sargent and company.
USA, with Tim Weah, Sargent and Andrew Carleton leading the attack were all over the Indian defence, who time and again needed to depend on the duo of Jitendra Singh and Anwar Ali to bail them out.
India began the game without a designated right back and needed Rahul KP to fill in for the evening. The hosts as expected held a tight line in defence as a ploy to contain their more fancied opponents. Komal Thatal – easy to recognise with his blonde hair along with Aniket Jadhav were mostly left to feed off scraps.
The Blue Colts’ resistance though was broken down on the half hour mark, as Josh Sargent, converted the penalty he won after Jitendra Singh decided either the ball or the player was going past – and the ball was gone.
Sargent, did not hesitate and as one would expect from him, calmly slotted away from 12 yards out.
The Blue Colts were finding it hard to get their passing going in the final third and had not registered a shot on target neither had managed to trouble Justin Garces in goal through the majority of the first half.
Just before the interval though India did manage to make more than a solitary foray into the attacking third – but Aniket Jadhav’s shot was comfortably collected by Garces.
The second half began with India looking to make some early in-roads and make their presence felt along with the 40,000 plus people at the stadium.
But within minutes, the momentum was back with the stronger and more organised visitors. Carleton smashed it goal wards but Dheeraj, a standout performer on the day, saved the day once again.
Not for long though, as the India were caught napping in their own box and Chris Durkin volleyed it past Dheeraj, who had no chance of making a save after Anwar Ali’s deflection. The majestic JLN had been silenced, as the Durkin and co reeled away in celebration.
The hosts found it hard to get out of their defensive shape with USA enjoying the lion’s share of the possession throughout the game. For a moment just after the hour mark though – everyone held their breath as Komal Thatal’s sneaked in and almost embarrassed Garces and the US defence when his lob over the keeper landed just over the crossbar.
On the hot, sultry evening the visitors were starting to tire, and de Matos brought in Naorem and Rahim Ali – a move that paid dividends almost immediately as Naorem’s quick feet forced US on the back feet.
True to John Hackworth’s words, the Indian team cheered on by the home crowd continued to run hard.
India welcomed the final ten minutes of the game with a rasping left foot strike from Suresh Wangjam which seemed set for the top corner, only to be blocked for a corner.
Anwar Ali, desperate to make up for his failure at stopping the second goal found himself in space with time on hand – but his right footed hit ricocheted of the cross bar.
That unfortunately for Indians fell to George Acosta who set Carleton free and he made no mistake in wrapping up what was eventually a comfortable three points for the visitors.
India play Colombia next on October 9, in the national capital where a defeat could bring their World Cup campaign to an end.