India have started their FIFA U17 World Cup campaign on a losing note, as the United States of America scored thrice over the course of ninety minutes at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi.
Hopes and expectations were high as the Men in Blues are playing in any FIFA competition for the first time ever. However, much to the dismay of the thousands of the fans on the ground and the millions of well-wishers across the globe, India could not live up to the billing in the curtain-raiser of their U17 World Cup campaign. Thanks to a first half penalty from Josh Sargent and two well taken second half goals from Chris Durkin and Andrew Carleton, USA defeated India comfortably and went to the top of the group table.
With this unfortunate loss, the struggle to proceed to the next round might be herculean for the Indian Colts. But, the people from the country tried to stay positive in every nook and corner. Every single person has voiced their appreciation for the player, while the occasional skills and efforts that came mostly in the second half were lauded highly by the viewers.
India in fact got two glorious opportunities to find the nets in the second half, but Komal Thatal’s chip went above the post while Anwar Ali’s magnificent effort hit the woodwork twenty minutes before the final whistle. Should those attempts beat the visiting goalkeeper, the story could have been way different for the home team. But, in the end, the scoreline is the single most important thing and needless to stay, the hosts of the U17 World Cup failed miserably to put any impression in that front. And that automatically raises an important question – should we be happy with the World Cup participation trophy or is it time to think beyond that and hope for some actual accolades in near future?
The author believes in the latter, and feel the urge to mention some major talking points from the game last night. India have to improve a lot, if they want to leave their mark in the FIFA U17 World Cup.
(1) DO NOT park the bus:
It was disheartening to see that the home team dug deep right from the kick off. Barring a couple of players up front, everyone was in the own third, defending to the core. This inevitably boosted the morale of the opponents, and they started attacking from both flanks. It took some exceptional defending to keep them at bay until the 30th minute, when Jitendra Singh could not but trip Sargent inside the box, and the resulting spot-kick gave USA the well-earned lead.
This mentality of defending from the beginning has to change! As India tried to attack in the second half, the game was more open and as a consequence, they got decent chances to convert. It certainly gives the team more confidence when that happens and naturally, from the next match, India should try to be positive throughout the game.
(2) Holding the ball too much:
It goes without saying that the boys are not super skillful to hold the ball for a long time. But, unfortunately, a lot of them, especially Komal Thatal and Aniket Yadav, tried to do that, especially in the final third. It is understandable that a goal in the U17 World Cup might change the future for any young player, but that should not come to the mind when you are playing a match of such grandeur in front of the nation. On multiple occasions, a pass to another player would have been much better, but the solo efforts could only end in easy saves or even worse, outside the target.
(3) Excessive use of long balls:
It seemed to be a common strategy for the Indian players. Whenever the defenders got little space in front of them, they tried to send long balls to the forwards. But, the Indian players are not physically at par and quite expectedly, they lost the ball almost every time. Against teams like Ghana, this will be even more serious, and the coach should make the players understand that long balls are not the way to beat these countries. Short passes and quick movements might come more handy in this U17 World Cup.
(4) Less pressing when needed:
India were two goals down by the hour mark. Yet, there was no intention of excessive pressing from the home players. In international level, this is the time when the teams go all out to press as hard as they can so that they can pull one back with times left to give them a chance to equalize. Surprisingly, India were happy to let USA pass the ball around in their half. There was a moment of brilliance from skipper Amarjit Singh when he pressed and snatched the ball right outside the USA box. The result was a brilliant left footed strike that ended up being blocked by a USA defender. This should happen more frequently, and it would certainly unsettle the opponents time and again.
(5) Improve the set-pieces:
Corners and free-kicks have always been the forte for lesser teams, be it Crystal Palace and West Bromwich in the Premier League or Cameroon and Greece in the international circuit. This is something people can practice and excel even against the top teams. And India should also make the best uses of the set-pieces. It should be mentioned here that the best opportunity of the team came through a corner only, when Ali hit the crossbar with his thunderous volley. Perhaps that would compel the manager and the players devote more time on training them.
To end this piece, the author just wants to emphasize that it is certainly a great achievement to play in the biggest stage of the world, but then again, it would mean a lot to make some actual impact in that stage. It can be said with certainty that this India team has a lot of talent at its disposal, and it would be stupid to remain content with a participation glory. With proper guidance, Amarjit and co can go a long way and that is why it is immensely important to be critical of the minutes they struggled, rather than praising those few seconds of brilliance they showed in the first match of the campaign.