FIFA U-17 World Cup: Mercury rising as India gear up for first game against USA
India will take on the United States of America on the opening day of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Delhi on Friday.fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 05, 2017 23:05 IST
The energy was evident as the youngsters went about their final training session at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Thursday, on the eve of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
If there were butterflies in the teenagers’ stomach a day before the biggest day in Indian football history, one could not spot any evidence from beyond the pitch.
The floodlight Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium would be packed when India return on Friday evening, to face strong contenders USA in their Group A clash. On Thursday though, there were no baying fans as they went about doing their practice drills.
The Indian team members, who will go into the first FIFA tournament the country will be involved in, formed a huddle on the ground before letting out a yell and dispersing to start the training session.
The players had put in hours and hours in training and match practice, travelling across the globe to get a taste of quality opposition, and get a feel of how the major football nations guide their young talent towards a future career and stardom in the game.
India’s Portuguese coach Luis Norton de Matos made them play a friendly game on the ground. The buzz has been around the Indian U-17 team in the past few weeks. On Friday, the parents of many of the players will be in the stands, eager to see how their boys cope with the best in the business, and provide Indian football a new beginning.
The ‘sleeping giant’ title has been synonymous with Indian football for a while. When the then FIFA president Sepp Blatter dubbed India thus, the global football community was hopeful the country was on its way to realising its potential in the game.
It has not panned out that way, although the senior team broke into the top 100 in world rankings. The FIFA U-17 World Cup will thus be a huge opportunity for India and they will look to ‘wake up’.
Millions of Indian football fans have waited for ages to see the nation rise in the beautiful game. Indian coach Luis Norton de Matos spoke about the young players trying not to feel the pressure and just focus on the job.
“We know that this is a huge occasion for the country, but we cannot let it get to our head. These are teenagers at the end of the day, and my team is doing everything they can to ensure the footballers will be able to go into tomorrow’s game with a clear head,” Matos told the pre-match media conference.
“We know USA are a very strong side. The Indian players know exactly what is expected and we believe we are capable of providing a good fight against any opponent.”
However, the challenge will be enormous for India. USA are the CONCACAF U-17 Championship runners-up and boast of top talent in strikers Josh Sargent, Ayo Akinola and Tim Weah, who have made a mark in the Major League Soccer (MLS) developmental system.
The teams have met once before, in the AIFF Youth Cup in Goa last year. USA dominated the game, winning 4-0. However, coach Jack Hackworth believes it will be a different challenge, playing the first game of the World Cup before the Indian home crowd.