Chhetri: Proud of our U-17 boys

Team India’s tournament is over, but the work for Indian football has only started. What we, as a country, do from here to build on this platform will fully determine the success of hosting the World Cup. We need to put our heads down and work with honesty.

India’s Jeakson Singh Thounaojam towers above the Colombian defence to score India’s first ever goal in a FIFA World Cup.   -  AP

We’re inching towards the business end of the Under-17 World Cup and while India, the venue, is still in the thick of things, India, the team, is slowly seeing the dust on its campaign settle. A lot is being written, dissected and suggested about the colts’ showing — some of it valid, some over the top. And I’m not going to turn up with an opinion of my own. But I do have a little to say.

There’s no shame in admitting that we were outclassed in two of the three games. The World Cup was always going to be a stage where we test ourselves against the best in the world, learn as much as possible and then iron out our flaws. In this regard, it has been a successful campaign.

While the three results — 3-0, 2-1 and 4-0 — may not look flattering, the fighting spirit of the boys gives us confidence. There was no lack of effort from their side. The lads wore their hearts on their sleeves and it was evident ever so often.

Opening-game jitters troubled the team against the USA and Ghana was far superior and stronger in the last group game. The game against Colombia left all Indian fans, including me, a little bitter. We did enough to draw that game, if not win it. But football can be very cruel and it’s something that the boys will keep finding out along their career. India fought gamely against the fancied South American nation and could have even eked out a win. The performance definitely augurs well for the future.

Young Jeakson Singh gave the nation so much to rejoice about when he nodded home India’s first ever goal in a FIFA World Cup. I cannot explain the joy I felt when the goal went in. It’s probably my favourite India goal and it left a small yet indelible mark on our campaign.

The Cup gave us the chance to see how much other nations have developed. Iran is a quality side, but to see it put four past the Germans was more than just a statement. Brazil has been prolific as has the English. Being part of a tournament that has such quality will hold India in good stead in the future.

The reason I haven’t taken the names of players who have stood out is simply because these kids have a long way to go. It’s important how we choose to nurture them and inculcate and develop their skills and attitudes further.

The best way forward is to start by wiping the slate clean. Yes, the experience has been fantastic and needs to be built upon. But now that we’ve had the first-hand experience of where we stand in comparison to other nations, we need to run back to the whiteboard and draw up a plan from scratch.

A plan that is structured, honest and willing to be adapted by every stakeholder for the betterment of the sport.

While the boys have earned praise from all quarters, it will be unfair to leave without a word on the fans, who have backed this team and the event. There were 40,000 and more fans for every India game and that is a fantastic number for a football match anywhere in the world. I had the chance to attend the opener against the USA and I constantly kept thinking of the head rush a seventeen-year-old me would have had, playing in front of supporters like that.

It’s really encouraging to see the traction the World Cup has generated in the media and on the digital space. And it’s our responsibility to harness this.

India’s tournament is finished, but the work for Indian football has only started. What we, as a country, do from here to build on this platform will fully determine the success of hosting the World Cup. We need to put our heads down and work with honesty.