FIFA U-17 World Cup: ‘India must not get overawed by their opponents reputation’
Column | The difference in standards at the under-17 level is not huge. So when Indian Under-17 football team plays its FIFA U-17 World Cup matches at home, the players must play hard and believe in themselves, writes Jaime Gavilanfifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 07, 2017 11:17 IST
I played in the FIFA U-17 World Cup back in 2001. It was held in Trinidad and Tobago so for each member of the squad it was their first trip outside Europe, far away from home. It was a learning experience both on and off the field. I remember back on those days there was no WhatsApp and as 16-17 year old kids we didn’t really know how to email like the kids do now and doing phone calls back home would have been expensive.
So it was very difficult to stay in touch with our families and while we were leaving for the tournament they were anxious. But we were excited as it was our first major tournament and eventually we made our families proud. We were in a group that had Argentina, Burkina Faso and Oman.
Though we were disappointed to get eliminated at the group stage but we had a good group of players including legends like Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres.
The experience we got there made us better players because two years later, quite a few members of that U-17 team played in the U-20 World Cup and finished runners-up. We realised at the FIFA U-17 World Cup that the gap between teams is minimal. We lost to Burkina Faso in that tournament, a result that in senior international football would be a big shock.
But in that group stage there wasn’t big a gulf in class between teams. We also lost to Argentina, which had the likes of Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta but the game was very tight. So the current India U-17 team must believe in themselves and not get intimidated by the FIFA ranking of the senior team of that nation.
Also when you are playing a big tournament at home you are always at an advantage. The fans will be their 12th man. Instead of feeling the pressure they should use it to their advantage and look to get positive results.
It’s a great opportunity for the Indian boys to play a World Cup in their own country. But they must not get carried away and stay humble and keep working hard. Because playing the FIFA U-17 World Cup is just one of the first steps. There is a long way to go in their career.
Even from our FIFA U-17 World Cup team in 2001, only Iniesta and Torres went on to play for the Spain national team and win the FIFA World Cup as well. Even from that Argentina team, only Tevez, Mascherano and Zabaleta went on to have great careers. So they have to treat this U-17 World Cup as the launching platform of their career and not the pinnacle.
I wish the India team the very best but of course my main interest will be on the Spain team. They have a tricky group with Brazil, Niger and North Korea. In recent years Spain has built a reputation of performing well in age group international tournaments so I hope they go past the group stage and then at the knockouts it will be about being the best team on the day.
(The author played for Spain in the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Cup and will be donning Chennaiyin FC colours for ISL 2017-18)