India gets ready for first ever FIFA tourney

Kirti Patil
Saturday, 8 July 2017

More than half-a-century ago, India had qualified for FIFA World Cup but when the team insisted on playing barefoot much against the FIFA rules India was asked to withdraw.

MUMBAI: More than half-a-century ago, India had qualified for FIFA World Cup but when the team insisted on playing barefoot much against the FIFA rules India was asked to withdraw.

That may have been one of the biggest indiscretion come to think of it now in this era. Setting that past aside, an young Indian team under Head Coach Luis Norton de Matos is ready to give its best in 90 days time when it takes on the United States in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup opening match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on October 6.

The suspense over who plays whom and where the 24 countries would be based at during the group stages was revealed on Friday night at the Official Draw of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

“In football, the word impossible does not exist and we are going to fight in every game, in every moment to give it our best,” Matos said.

“The boys are not afraid of any team and that is a very positive notion. If we have 20 percent chance of winning a game, we will ensure that we make it a cent percent,” the Portuguese added.

Moments after India were drawn in the Group ‘A’ alongside the United States, Colombia and Ghana, Matos said, “that India are ready to make an impression in the FIFA U-17 World Cup.”

India will clash against the US in their opening match on October 6, before taking on Colombia on October 9 and Ghana on October 12. AIFF President Praful Patel hoped large audience will greet players at every stadium.

“The AIFF along with the Government of India will ensure that maximum number of schools and colleges come to the stadium,” Patel stated.

Former Ajax, Inter-Milan and Arsenal player, Kanu captained Nigeria for 16 years from 1994 to 2010. He was captain of Nigerian team that won the Olympic gold medal in 1996 Atlanta Games.

An Under-17 World Cup star himself, Kanu scored a hat-trick on his debut at that level, an 8-0 win against Canada at Japan 1993, before going on to lift the trophy with the Golden Eaglets. “It’s something that I’ll always remember. That was a stepping stone for me. That World Cup made me. Being at the World Cup knowing that they had been doing well, it was a big challenge for the young ones to follow in the footsteps of the ones who have been here and won it (in 1985). There was a little bit of pressure on us to come in and do well. When we arrived and saw the atmosphere, how everybody was buzzing, we believed that we could do well.

“Lifting the trophy is something that you cannot really express in words. The happiness, the joy in representing your country, coming back with the World Cup is something great. For us, it was a platform for the whole world to know that we can play,” Kanu says of Nigeria missing this World Cup.

On India as a country: I believe everything is going to change (here in India) after the competition. It’s a beautiful country, I love the food. I know it’s not always been big into football but this is going to change that.

On India’s chances: It’s not going to be easy for them but for me, my message would be for them to have fun. At this age you have to enjoy football and have fun. Of course, they have to train, work hard, but the right time has come for them to bring everything together. They shouldn’t leave anything at home, they must bring everything - their energy, fighting spirit, skills - to the game. There is no tomorrow, no second chances. They have to make their country proud, but at the same time enjoy it. If they qualify from their group, it’s a great start for them, being in a tournament like this for the first time.

Former Real Madrid, Internazionale and Leicester City player, he represented Argentina in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. In 1995, Cambiasso scored in the play-off for third place in the Under-17 World Cup, as La Albiceleste finished third at Ecuador.

“In its history, we call the tournament the ‘U-17 World Cup’, but in the moment that you’re playing it and living it, it’s the World Cup, it’s not the U-17 edition! You never think about the age, you’re thinking that it’s your World Cup. In that moment, it’s the highest level. Playing for the first time for your country is one of the best feelings. The first time with your country, your first World Cup, it’s amazing. For me that third place was very good. The first objective that a country has is to play until the final day, and we did. OK, I’d prefer to win the cup, but when I think back now, I’m very happy with our performance.

About India as a host: I hope it’s a tournament people can enjoy because this country needs a tournament more than other countries. I know India loves football, so it’s a good chance for them. How the matches will actually be, it’s impossible to know, but I hope that the coaches and players will arrive with the mentality to enjoy it and understand we have to do something positive for this country.

About what India should aim for: Perhaps the best piece of advice would be, to forget about everything! Put the game and the moment out of their mind and then understand that whenever they play - whether it’s an international tournament or a friendly - it’s a game. They have the responsibility to play for their country but it’s an honour more than a responsibility. 

Try to enjoy it and try to forget everything around the game. In every training session, of course they have to remember - that is the moment when you fill your body with energy - but in the match they have to try and enjoy playing in what I imagine will be a great atmosphere. It will not be easy for them but I hope they can do it.

“It’s the best tournament in the world in this age group. I am really excited. The boys are well prepared. I was talking to one of them and I asked which teams do you want? And he told me that we are just gonna go there and give our best. As a team we will give whatever we have, and as hosts we will try to be the best.
— Sunil Chhetri

“Of course, India being the hosts, I would like to wish them all the very best, and I think it’s just that you need to believe in yourself and give your best, no matter what. If you win...of course there are good teams there...but I think if we do well it’s ok, but if we don’t, if we lose, never mind it’s just the experience. 
— PV Sindhu

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