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Post FIFA U-17 World Cup, India must focus on qualifying for Asian event in next age group

Column | All players in the FIFA U-17 World Cup should not consider the tournament an end in itself and instead aim to graduate to clubs and senior national teams.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 19, 2017 10:34 IST
John Gregory
John Gregory
Hindustan Times
FIFA U-17 World Cup,Indian U-17 football team,England U-17 Football team
Indian U-17 football team's Jeakson Thounaojam (15) celebrates with teammates after scoring the country’s first and only (as of now) goal in a FIFA global tournament during their FIFA U-17 World Cup match against Colombia in New Delhi on October 9.(PTI)

For once, an English team has won a penalty shootout. Phew! That’s a monkey off our back. As far as I can recollect, it’s been close to a quarter of a century since England has probably won a match on penalties.

The 12-yard trick has haunted England for long and I thought we were doomed again, finding our U-17s in the same situation. However, it was so good to see the boys overcome the hurdle.

The Round of 16 against Japan was always going to be tough. Japan looked a very fit unit and technically good too; credit to the Japan boys for putting up a brilliant show.

England’s USA test

England’s next game is against USA and it will be tight too. The American side has adapted well to the conditions. If their win over Paraguay is anything to go by – USA would prove equally hard. I watched them against India and thought they could go a long way in the tournament.

It was obviously nowhere near the magnitude of the 1966 World Cup triumph, but it was great to see England win the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this year. Here in India, the Young Lions have equalled our best performance in U-17 World Cup, and I hope they emulate the U-20s.

So far their performances have been encouraging. Probably coach Steve Cooper couldn’t have wished for a better group stage as the Young Lions won every game and displayed quality football.

India made a mark

Plenty of great talent has been on show at this FIFA U-17 World Cup, but being the Chennaiyin FC coach, I was taking keen interest in the India team. What I liked most about the Indian boys was their courage. They didn’t look overawed. Yes, there were some nerves in the opening fixture, but every game they showed signs of improvement technically, tactically and mentally. I felt they were incredibly unlucky not to get a result against Colombia.

The stats of the Indian team don’t look positive but anyone who saw their matches will agree each player showed great potential. What they need now is continuous exposure so that they keep developing and aim to become senior internationals. They should take one step at a time and first look to qualify for the Asian Championship in the next age group.

Just the first step

Any of these teams, be it England or India, should be encouraged they are representing their country in a World Cup, even if it’s the youth version. It’s important for coaches, parents and their mentors to remind them that they have a long way to go in their careers and can’t just use this youth World Cup as the pinnacle.

Once the World Cup is done, most of these players have their work cut out to break into the first team of their clubs and in some cases even find a club where they can get game time. Often in the past plenty of players have lost their way despite starting off well at youth level. So, these boys need to remain grounded and keep working hard. Of course, they need the right advisors around them.

There is talk India could host the U-20 World Cup also in future. That would be another great milestone for football in India, especially if most of this U-17 group of players is involved.

As for England, I hope they complete the U-17 and U-20 double.

(The writer is a former England midfielder who is head coach of ISL club Chennaiyin FC)

First Published: Oct 19, 2017 10:29 IST