For those who have been following the India Under-17 squad, Luis Norton de Matos’ line-up against USMNT in their opening Group A encounter of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup raised a few eyebrows.
The reason being that the former Benfica ‘B’ coach highlighted the need for strength and physique in certain key positions such as central midfield, defence, forward and goalkeeper. He spoke about the profile of a player he wants in each position.
There were too many lightweights in the team, the ball was given away far too easily under the gab of dribbling with the opposition not having to sweat to win back possession. Although one can discount those factors with the fact that this is their first real competitive fixture and hence, their performance need not be analyzed much.
What Norton realized is that he needs to get back to his philosophy and field a team which can give the Colombians a run for their money. Realizing the physical prowess of the opponent, he fielded a team whose spine had players who could grind out a performance.
In came Namit Deshpande, who had picked up a knock in Bengaluru and hence wasn’t selected for the first game, to partner the impressive Anwar Ali. Two tall centre-backs and the result was they cleared almost everything that came their way. Colombia coach Orlando Restrepo praised the Indian defensive duo in particular for their ability to clear the ball out of the defence.
In the central midfield, Jeakson Singh was afforded a chance in place of Suresh Singh. His calmness on the ball was telling and the manner in which he would close down the opposition to not give them space and win back possession was the highlight of his performance.
Upfront, Rahim Ali earned his first start and the Mohun Bagan academy product put in a tireless display. He did well to hold the ball upfront, linked up with his team-mates and also provided defensive stability by putting his height to good use. On at least a couple of occasions, he was seen defending in full-back positions in order to lend a helping hand to the defence.
The presence of tall and strong players added more strength to India’s play as they were a tough unit to break down, something which the Colombians acknowledged.
Norton’s decision certainly paid dividends as India put in a valiant effort against Colombia. They may not have won, conceded a daft second goal immediately after scoring the equalizer but they were a match against a South American side, something which every Indian had hoped for before the start of the Under-17 World Cup.