FIFA U17 WC: A test of India’s defensive skills against USA’s attack

The Indian side, coached by Portugal’s Luis Norton de Matos, received a pep talk from the All India Football Federation President, Praful Patel, at its training session on the eve of the FIFA under-17 World Cup game against USA, even as many celebrities took to social media to lend their support to the squad.

The Indian team takes on the USA in its first match of the World Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.   -  AIFF Media

India’s long wait — 70 years since independence — to feature in a football World Cup will come to an end when the national under-17 team takes on the USA in its first match of the World Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.

The Indian side, coached by Portugal’s Luis Norton de Matos, received a pep talk from the All India Football Federation President, Praful Patel, at its training session on the eve of the game, even as many celebrities took to social media to lend their support to the squad.

The inexperienced Indian team, however, will find it tough to compete against a strong USA, which will be led by Joshua Sargent, who will join Bundesliga side Werder Bremen in January 2018. “India is a good team, but we are ready. Our residency programme runs in Florida and the weather is almost similar,” Sargent said.

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USA, which has participated in 15 of the 16 U-17 World Cups, finished second in the continental championship, and coach John Hackworth has been associated with the team for over a decade. “We played against India a year ago and the scoreline reflected the way they played. We are in a tough group and it’s never easy to play the opening game against the host in front of a huge crowd,” Hackworth said.

The host, too, has little experience of playing in front of capacity crowd and the players, despite the two-year grooming programme, will feel the heat when they take the field. The national coach Luis Norton de Matos — who has an Indian link through his grandfather who was born in Goa — accepted the huge gulf between the two teams. “They are strong on all counts. They have an attacking philosophy and as a coach, I would have to find the solutions. Their players also come with 10 years of football experience. But our team has worked very hard in training and I hope it translates onto the pitch” de Matos said.

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India will be without full back Boris Singh, who is ruled out with a booking, but Matos insists on having two replacements for the Manipur player. “When I signed in as a coach I knew Boris will not be able to play the first game. We will have a player ready to do his job,” the coach said.

India, which drew against Chile in the four-nation meet in Mexico in August, will look to heavily marshal it defence, with skipper Amarjit Singh Kiyam sitting as a screen ahead of it in the midfield. “We need to follow our defensive organisation. We have trained hard but now we have to find out if it’s good enough to earn us points,” de Matos said.

The match is already billed as a test of India’s defensive skills against USA’s attack. Aniket Jadav, the striker from Kolhapur, might find himself isolated in the opposition half, toiling hard for the ball without much support from his team-mates.

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India’s best chances to score will come from set pieces with its tall defenders — Anwar Ali and Namit Deshpande — coming into the fray. “In football there’s always a small chance and we will try to make the most of the little chances we get,” de Matos said.