FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Five lessons for Indian football team

Indian football team’s FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 campaign may have ended with a heavy defeat against Ghana, but the tournament in which the hosts conceded nine goals and scored once, taught the youngsters plenty of valuable lessons.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 13, 2017 13:47 IST
Shayne Dias and Sayan Ghosh
Shayne Dias and Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
FIFA U-17 World Cup,FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017,Indian national football team
Jeakson Thounaojam (15) heading in India's goal during the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 football group A match against Colombia in New Delhi on October 9. It was India’s only goal in the tournament.(PTI)

India’s FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 came to demoralising end when two-time champions Ghana beat them 4-0 and ended any slim chances the home team might have had of making it to the next round. It was a harsh reality check for a side that actually came close to taking a point against Colombia in its previous game. (POINTS TABLE | RESULTS | SCHEDULE)

But the experience of playing their maiden World Cup at home is something the Indian players will never forget. There were also plenty of lessons from the tournament. Here we look at five things that India learnt from the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017:

Plenty of progress to be made

Perhaps, the biggest takeaway from this tournament was the fact that Indian football has much catching up to do before the national team can compete with the rest of the world. Whilst the players weren’t lacking in passion, their overall game just wasn’t at the same level of teams like USA, Ghana and Colombia.

The players have every right to be proud of their performances, since they did their best in what was undoubtedly a tough group. But the experience of playing against top international sides will serve as a reminder that there is still work to be done in order to be competitive.

Jeakson Thounaojam (15) celebrates after scoring India's goal vs Colombia. India scored only one goal in three group matches. (PTI)

Experience needed

The fact that the Indian team needs more game time is something head coach Luis Norton de Matos constantly stressed on during his press conferences. One of the key reasons India don’t have as much game time under their belt is a lack of grassroots development for the game, something that needs to change immediately.

De Matos has already stated that his side will play in the I-League in order to get more playing time, a process which he believes will be invaluable to his side. However, effort must be made to ensure players start playing from a young age so as to match the experience level of the world’s elite.

Indian goalkeeper Dheeraj Moirangthem takes a selfie with his fans after the FIFA U-17 World Cup match versus Ghana in New Delhi on October 12. Every India game saw over 45,000 fans at the Nehru stadium. (PTI)

How to deal with pressure

Being part of a world tournament is a tough experience in itself. However, the India U-17 football team were under a different kind of pressure. Not only was this India’s maiden appearance in a FIFA tournament, it was also happening in India itself. With an average of 45,000 spectators cheering the players every game, it built pressure to match more experienced and skilful opponents.

But India’s youngsters did well to deal with the pressure both on and off the field. Despite losing three games, the boys endeared themselves to the nation with their fighting spirit. Even in games where they were tactically inferior, they never stopped fighting and that is something that will serve them well in the future.

India's head coach Luis Norton de Matos hugs Rahim Ali after losing the FIFA U-17 World Cup match against Colombia in New Delhi on October 9. (AP)

Defensive organisation

Given the quality and experience of teams in of India’s group, it was reasonable to expect coach Luis Norton de Matos go into games with a defensive mindset. As he himself stated during the post-match press conference after his side’s defeat to Ghana, “We can’t look to keep the ball against a team like Ghana; their individual players are too good.”

But India’s ability to sit deep and defend as if their lives depended on it, is another lesson that will serve them well in the future. Not all games are won through attacking; a strong defence is just as important and India are well on their way to mastering the art of being defensive.

India’s defensive approach was expected but their inability to convert the chances that came their way hurt them in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. (PTI)

Work on finishing

There’s a reason that India only scored one goal in three games, and it wasn’t because they didn’t create many chances; that’s simply a side effect of playing with a defensive mindset. India’s main problem was they didn’t convert the few chances they created, particularly the good ones.

India’s game revolved around defending deep and then hitting their opponents on the break. Such a strategy requires a team to be clinical in front of goal. India had a number of good chances against both Colombia and USA, but the failure to finish off those chances eventually came back to hurt them.

First Published: Oct 13, 2017 13:16 IST