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FIFA U-17 World Cup: 'Sleeping Giant' India Is Well and Truly Awake

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter had called India the ‘sleeping giant’ of world football during his visit to the country in 2007. But the vociferous crowd of around 48,000 during the India-Colombia game made it clear on Monday that the giant is well and truly awake and kicking.

Arjit Dabas | News18 Sports

Updated:October 10, 2017, 12:44 PM IST
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FIFA U-17 World Cup: 'Sleeping Giant' India Is Well and Truly Awake
(FIFA/Twitter)

9th October 2017. This date will be etched in the minds of Indian football fans forever as Jeakson Singh scored the country’s first ever goal in a FIFA event when he headed home against Colombia at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter had called India the ‘sleeping giant’ during his visit to the country in 2007. But the vociferous crowd of around 48,000 made it clear on Monday that the giant is well and truly awake and kicking.

The fans at the JLN Stadium went into delirium when the ball crashed against the back of the Colombia net and their coach Orlando Restrepo’s expression said it all. It was like catastrophe had struck. And for those who didn’t know about the U-17 World Cup taking place in the country, they could be excused for mistaking it for a game of cricket — India’s first love on the sports field.

Although the joy was short-lived as Colombia scored almost immediately and won the game 2-1 — all but ending India’s chances of progression into the next round — the boys left the stadium with their heads held high. The crowd too on their part gave a standing ovation as a new generation of heroes emerged for India on the football field.

“This team has a fantastic future” coach Luis Norton de Matos said in the post-match press conference, also going on to rue the lack of big match experience for the team which has proved costly for the Blue Colts so far in the tournament.

But it will be intriguing indeed to see what the future holds for the side which has shown so much potential, considering the fact that they came together almost two years back.

“Organisation is our biggest strength. We have good concentration, it is difficult to score a goal but most difficult part of football is offensive and that’s where we need to keep working,” de Matos added, giving a rather honest opinion about the team.

India had their chances in the first half — with Rahul KP striking the post — as luck seemed to desert the team at rather crucial intervals.

But the team matched Colombia every bit, and it didn’t seem for a moment that this was the same team that had beaten India 3-0 in the run up to the tournament.

“We play on the same level as Colombia. Six months ago, that would have been a dream. They are a strong team from South America,” de Matos added, speaking about the performance.

The coach deserves high praise, given the fact that he was appointed only seven months prior to the tournament, but the team’s work ethic showed that the Portugese has been successful in getting the message across.

His decision to drop star players like Komal Thata, Aniket Jadhav to the bench and include the likes of Rahim Ali meant that he wasn’t afraid to match a team like Colombia for physicality.

The Portugese could barely speak after the game as he was totally animated throughout the 90 minutes, making his presence felt on the touchline.

Many had laughed off at de Matos when he said that his team can win at the FIFA World Cup, given the fact that they were a part of a rather difficult group, involving United States, Colombia and Ghana.

The team has shown against United States and Colombia that they aren’t in the tournament to just make up the numbers, but they are here to play.

Now, the team will turn all its focus to the game against Ghana which might well be India’s last match in the tournament.

The AIFF has already announced that de Matos will stay with the team after the tournament, and that they are likely to be included in the I-League. It will indeed be exciting to see what the future holds for these talented players, but they have one last chance to shine on the world stage and every player in the team would like to sign off with a win!

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| Edited by: Baidurjo Bhose
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