Three years ago in Goa, an agile teenager from the land of Bhaichung Bhutia - the Sikkimese Sniper - was selected to be part of a national camp which would eventually yield 21 players to make up the Indian team for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Komal Thatal was introduced to the beautiful game at a very young age; he would spend hours watching his older brothers play football and like any younger brother, he wanted to emulate his older siblings and their friends.
The last three years have seen the young midfielder travel all around the world, but one of the highlights of a career that is surely set to take off, is that Thatal is the only Indian to have scored a goal against a Brazilian national team. But Thatal who is well aware of the feat doesn’t have a very happy memory of it, as he says, “It did not feel great at that time because the goal against Brazil was an equalizer and we went on to lose the match.”
Komal’s journey in football began all the way back in 2011 in West Sikkim, at the Namchi Sports Academy. Six years later he is on the brink of an enviable World Cup debut.
“The journey has been fantastic. Right from when I started playing football in Sikkim, to coming to Goa for the AIFF Academy to getting selected for the Indian U-17 World Cup Team. I am proud to be a part of a historic moment in Indian football.”
Komal, a big fan of the Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho, will be entrusted with the number 10 jersey at the World Cup. His role will be very similar to that of his idol’s – being the playmaker – and he isn’t shying away from the challenge.
“We are focused on the World Cup at the moment and our first priority is to get past the group stages. Everything else matters little at the moment,” says one of the more prominent faces in the Indian team.
That there is a big gulf in quality between India and the 23 other teams competing at the tournament is a fact that the coach Luis Norton de Matos has embraced. The task at hand is extremely tough and nothing other than motivation and determination will help the Indian team.
“Coach Matos has been like a father figure. Not only has he helped me improve my game, he inspires and motivates us to give our best on the pitch every time,” says Thatal.
For Matos and the boys, this is a challenge unlike any that they would have come across so far in their careers. There is nothing to lose and all to gain.
Only recently did the India U-17 team beat Mauritius 3-0 in a friendly match in Goa, before that they held Chile, one of South American football’s powerhouse, to a 1-1 draw. India begin their campaign against USA on October 6th, take on Colombia on the October 9, and two time champions, Ghana, on the October 12.
De Matos and India will be depending on the quick feet of Thatal, while the JLN Stadium in New Delhi, like the rest of country will hope he can light up the country before the Indian festival of Diwali.