FIFA U-17 World Cup: India's Ouster Was Heartbreaking But Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

Indian players left dejected after the loss to Ghana (Getty Images)

Indian players left dejected after the loss to Ghana (Getty Images)

The Blue Colts crashed out of the tournament after losing all three matches — 0-3 to USA, 1-2 to Colombia and 0-4 to Ghana. But everyone in the country knew the result of these matches well before the first kick-off of this much-awaited carnival.


Pratik Sagar

New Delhi: The image of the young Indian players crying their hearts out in the middle of the turf following their demoralising 0-4 loss against Ghana in their final Group-A match at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium might just turn out to be the turning point for the sport in a nation where the 'Beautiful Game' isn't anything like its profound name.

The Blue Colts crashed out of the tournament after losing all three matches — 0-3 to USA, 1-2 to Colombia and 0-4 to Ghana. But everyone in the country knew the result of these matches well before the first kick-off of this much-awaited carnival.

People knew that India are featuring in the tournament just by the virtue of being the hosts. People knew they are nowhere close to the opponents that are taking part in this competition. And people knew, India would crash out of the group stage itself.

So, if India's fate was already sealed even before the start of the competition, then why were there sullen faces at the stadium, when the curtains were brought down on their team’s campaign? Why were more than 50,000 fans present at the venue and millions glued to TV and internet in India and across the globe, when they already knew about the team’s fortunes?

The answer is that these kids made them believe after putting on a spirited performance in the first match against USA. There was a gradual increase in the attendance for the three matches and people who were inside the stadium will swear by how loud it was whenever the Indian team took to the field.

Although India lost the match 0-3, but sometimes in this sport, scoreline might be the only thing that matters, but it just doesn't tell the whole story.

If Komal Thatal had chipped a ball a bit lower and had Anwar Ali not hit the crossbar, things could have been different in the first match. But football is a cruel sport and the young Indian boys found it out in the most heartbreaking way possible.

"We had two possibilities in the second half, one through Komal Thatal and second through Anwar Ali. It was very important for us to score a goal during this phase of the game. Had Ali's shot gone in (which hit the crossbar) it would have been 1-2 and things could have been different in the last few minutes of the game," Indian coach Luis Norton De Matos had said following his team's loss in the first game against USA.

"However, we conceded the third goal right after the miss and it was a cruel punishment for us. Even if we were second best, we would have liked to see us go for the draw."

Even USA coach John Hackworth acknowledged their effort and was left impressed by the hosts’ performance. And the one thing that was most striking was that he used the word 'organised'. One seldom hears the word organised when a team has been mauled 3-0 but to the credit of De Matos and his players, such was the case.

"I thought India played really well and I am very impressed with the team. Indian fans were amazing too and this was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen at a FIFA U-17 World Cup," said Hackworth in the post match presser.

If the first match against USA was a first at this level for India, the match against Colombia was where the Blue Colts actually arrived on the international scene. This match will always be written in golden letters in the history of Indian football because India's first goal at any FIFA event came in this clash.

When Jeakson Singh leapt in the air to head a corner, so did a billion people. And when the ball nestled into the top corner, time stopped at the JLN stadium for a millisecond and what followed was complete mayhem. It was reminiscent of the time when MS Dhoni connected with the ball at the Wankhede Stadium, followed by a pin drop silence in the entire stadium, till the ball didn’t sail over the long on boundary rope.

But once again, India's inexperience came to the fore and Penaloza took full advantage of it to take Colombia over the line, minutes after Jeakson's equaliser. Again, like in the first match, India had chances but unfortunately luck deserted them again. Ask Rahul Kannoly and he will tell you that he hasn't hit a volley in his life — as sweetly as he did against Colombia — but the ball chose to hit the crossbar.

"It was a nice experience and I felt on cloud nine when I scored the goal, however we tried our best but were unlucky. It is obviously a great feeling to score for my country in a FIFA World Cup but it would have been sweeter had we won the match. To me in fact it does not even matter as long as we score. We deserved a result, and we tried our very best to get it, but in the process we learnt a huge lesson what international football is all about," said goal-scorer Jeakson Singh after the end of the match.

Exactly! A huge lesson. Realistically, India were never supposed to win any match but this tournament was supposed to be a learning curve for a nation, still in its adolescence as far as the sport is concerned.

But after the spirited performances in the first two matches of the World Cup — Indian players would not have thought that they will be taught a footballing lesson, as harsh as this one.

But then again, Ghana are two-time champions of world at this level. They are one of the top contenders for this edition of the tournament as well. But for most parts of the match, to their credit, India were looking into the eyes of their far superior opponents.

Ghana shipped in four goals against the Blue Colts and it could have been more than that, had it not been for India's star of the tournament, goal-keeper Dheeraj Singh. Time and time again Dheeraj showed why he will go onto become one of the goalkeeping greats of the country and by doing so, also kept India in the contest for most parts of the three matches.

India conceded their second goal in the 52nd minute against Ghana and two goals followed afterwards in the latter stages of the match. With this, India were out of the tournament and the dream came to an abrupt end.

"I would love to see how senior India teams perform against senior teams of these countries! Had it been Nepal, Bhutan or Maldives, it could be different. But I am proud of this team and we need to invest in them," said coach De Matos in the post-match presser.

Not just the coach , but the entire country is proud of these young boys' performance in the tournament. And it was evident from the fact that the fans chose to stay behind to applaud the inconsolable young guns who saw their world shatter in front of them.

Yes, India conceded nine and scored just one. But Rome wasn't built in a day and that holds true for India's football culture. And that one goal which brought about arguably the loudest cheer ever in the country’s football history, might just help in waking up the 'sleeping giant' who has been dozing off for the last many years.

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