FIFA U-17 World Cup: Kargil War heroes inspire Indian football team | Hindustan Times
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FIFA U-17 World Cup: Kargil War heroes inspire Indian football team

Kargil War hero General Padmanabhan’s words “If we can’t win at sports, we can’t win wars” seem to be the mantra for the Indian football team ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 04, 2017 21:14 IST
Sayan Ghosh
The Indian football team will take on USA in their opening game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on October 6.
The Indian football team will take on USA in their opening game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on October 6. (AIFF )

When the 65-member Indian contingent returned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics with just a solitary bronze medal, Kargil War hero and then army chief General S Padmanabhan said, “If we can’t win at sports, we can’t win wars.”

Almost 17 years have passed since then, but that statement is still motivating the Indian football team ahead of their FIFA U-17 World Cup opener.

The statement came at an extremely crucial time in India’s history. The army had just successfully reclaimed the lost land around the Kargil area from Pakistan and the entire country was celebrating the war’s outcome. However, General S Padmanabhan’s words were a wake-up call for a nation which was not accustomed to winning many medals on the world stage.

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It inspired many Indians to start contributing to the sports scene. One such individual was Swaroop Savanur, who gave up his orthodontist practice in Pune to take the plunge into the field of mental conditioning and right now, he is using the general’s words to prepare the Indian U-17 football team for the biggest tournament of their careers.

“General Padmanabhan’s words inspired me to take this profession and I am using them to inspire these young footballers. These are young talents who are playing at this level for the first time and I believe that with right motivation, they will be able to perform quite well against teams who are stronger than them on paper,” Dr Savanur said on the sidelines of the team’s practice session on Wednesday.

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Since joining the backroom staff in February 2017, Dr Savanur has seen a lot of changes in the Indian dressing room. Within weeks of his appointment, Nicolai Adam was sacked as the team’s coach under controversial circumstances and although it was a tough time for the side, he believes the team was able to wither the storm quite successfully under Luis Norton De Matos.

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“The team has seen some tough times in the past but the boys have a good attitude and the morale is quite high. They are quite confident in their approach and with Matos at the helm, they are raring to go,” Dr. Saravur said.

India will play USA in their first match on Friday and the mental conditioning coach said the boys are prepared to give it all on the football field.

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“We are not looking at the World Cup with extra pressure. We are treating it as an opportunity and irrespective of what happens in this tournament, it will be a huge achievement for all the players and it will also boost their careers,” he said.

The Indian team held its training session at the home ground of Delhi-based club Sudeva FC. After the initial warm-up exercises, coach Luis Norton De Matos divided the players into two teams for a friendly match. The goalkeepers, however, were not part of that exercise as assistant coach Hugo Martens made them save close-range shots on the other side of the pitch. Their opponents – USA – held their practice at the Delhi University Rugby Ground behind closed doors.