Luis Norton optimistic ahead of WC bow

With exactly a month left for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, India's coach believes his side is capable of making its Group A opponents – the USA, Ghana and Colombia – sweat.

Matos is pleased with how organised the team is now but defending against set pieces is a major concern.

Luis Norton de Matos is under no illusions about the size of the task ahead of him but he prefers to be optimistic. With exactly a month left for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, India's coach believes his side is capable of making its Group A opponents – the USA, Ghana and Colombia – sweat.

“If you look at the stats and the rankings, it's a dream...it's difficult to win against them. It's difficult but not impossible,” he said at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here. “Even if we are not the favourites, in each of those games there is a little possibility...at least 5 or 10 or 20%. We're going to fight for that possibility. In football, sometimes the opposition can be superior and have more possession and more chances but if we score first and stay confident, the result can be different.”

The India U-17 team has been in Bengaluru for three weeks now, choosing the city for its weather. There have been friendly matches against the India U-19s and the BFC reserve team, with a game against local club Ozone FC scheduled for later this week. Efforts are under way to arrange a fixture with an international side here this Sunday but Matos believes his players, who have been on exposure trips to Europe and Mexico, have simply not had enough competitive experience.

“At 17, players in say Mexico, Colombia or the U.S. have 10 years of competition behind them. And we don't. And this is the most important thing we need to fight against,” he said. “The U.S. is stronger than us and in the last week they played four international games. Now they play two more against Mexico. The U.S. has played almost 50 internationals in the last two years: not friendlies, but competitive games. And they play for their clubs too.”

On its tour of Mexico last month, India lost 5-1 to the host, 3-0 to Colombia and drew 1-1 with Chile. There are mitigating factors, however. “We had a problem that we travelled so close to the first game. It was 41 hours of travel, with an altitude of 2300m, with a time difference of 11 hours. So it was very complicated for us, the first two games,” Matos said.

“And Mexico is a level completely superior...it's one of the strongest teams in the world, in all the categories. Three or four of the Mexican and Colombian players are playing in the top division in their countries. But the boys understood that they can play against these kinds of teams.”

Matos is pleased with how organised the team is now but defending against set pieces is a major concern. “We conceded nine goals in Mexico and seven of those were from corners and free kicks,” he said. “We have to work on that. Our team is not so big and if you look at the Colombian players, there are seven or eight like me.”

The Portuguese added: “The most difficult thing in football is the offensive process and this comes from years and years of work. There is no time to do that now. In the past they have had no idea of that. It is important to look five years ahead, to the World Cup of 2024 for example, and the future of the national team.”

Matos does not want to set targets at the tournament, however. “The important thing is for Indian people to have the belief that if these boys can play so well with this much work, then in three-four years, we can build a football team on another level,” he said. “What is the problem? It is the details. It is simple things like learning how to protect the ball, you learn that in competition. Sometimes we're very innocent, we're naive, because we have not had much competition.

“I cannot impose targets. My target is to win the first game. I'm confident. Perhaps I have more information about the U.S. than they do about us. We're going to try to surprise them. We cannot be too critical. We're not Brazil, Portugal or Spain. It's a World Cup. If India had not organised this World Cup there would have been no Indian U-17 team in the World Cup. Or in any age group. Because football has gone so far. But if you can keep the lessons, if you continue this process, it is possible in the future to have stronger football in India.”

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