U-17 WC: Families rejoice as defensive duo makes cut

A day after Luis Norton de Matos, coach of the India Under-17 football team, announced the country's first-ever squad for a World Cup, the news is yet to sink in in the households of Sanjeev Stalin and Hendry Antonay.

The Indian Under-17 football team will make its maiden appearance in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup next month.   -  special arrangement

A day after Luis Norton de Matos, coach of the India Under-17 football team, announced the country's first-ever squad for a World Cup, the news is yet to sink in in the households of Sanjeev Stalin and Hendry Antonay, the defensive duo from the city who are part of the historic bunch.

“Wearing the national jersey at a World Cup is something very different to what he has done so far,” said an elated Stalin Sr. here on Friday. “I never had any idea that he would reach this stage. So many great countries are coming and this will be the platform where he should show [his talent]. I am very happy.”

Both Sanjeev and Hendry come from footballing backgrounds. Sanjeev's father was himself a player, turning out for the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) as a guest player. And Hendry grew up in one of the city's best-known football hot-beds: Austin Town.

But success wasn't instant. Sanjeev had to leave home at a tender age and train at the Chandigarh Football Academy while Hendry's family was finding it very difficult to make ends meet. Hendry first studied at the corporation school in his locality before opting for open schooling.

“When Hendry came to me at the age of nine, he was a very pale and weak boy,” recollected Mary Victoria, a Sports Authority of India football coach with more than three decades' experience. “But he showed a lot of interest and was very dedicated. He had all the qualities needed and was hungry to learn. So it was relatively easy for a coach to polish him.

“His family wasn't well off. If he had had good nutrition early on, he could have been even better. But in spite of all the troubles, he has come up and that is great.”

Sanjeev, on the other hand, was first spotted by Jamshid Nassiri, the former Iranian striker and one of the earliest international stars in Indian domestic football, at a local tournament when he was eight.

“He used to juggle the ball very well and Nassiri was impressed,” said Stalin. “In fact when I first gave him a plastic ball, instead of throwing he used to kick. So I got him a bigger ball when he was four years old. Nassiri recommended my son to the Chandigarh Football Academy. It was there that he improved under very good coaches and went on to play at the State and national levels.”

Krishnappa, Hendry's coach at the Ozone Academy, where he trained along with his twin brother Alex, described him as a level-headed boy. “He is very humble,” he said. “He is also fearless and knows exactly what he is doing.”

For Stalin, getting selected for the team is just the first step. “Sanjeev is never too happy with his achievements. He repeatedly says, 'I still need to do more.' I am sure him and Hendry will give their best not just at the World Cup but in the future too.”

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