Over the last 10 days or so, the Indian U-22 has become the toast of the Indian footballing fraternity. The brave displays of the Blue Tigers in the AFC U-22 Championship qualifiers has made the entire nation sit up and take notice of this batch of youngsters, who have pleasantly surprised even the most optimistic fans of the Indian football team, with not only the results but also the manner in which they have played.
It is a pity that the qualifiers are not broadcasted on television or even on a streaming link, meaning that a great opportunity for the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to cash in on the present wave of popularity has been wasted.
But one can leave the negatives aside for once, as it would be unfair to allow them to take away some of the focus from the colts.
The fact has been, this side has given renewed hope to the long suffering Indian football fans, that after the recent Challenge Cup debacle, there still might be light at the end of this rather long tunnel, for the game in India.
Plenty To Celebrate...
What has been particularly surprising is the fact that Pailan Arrows players form the backbone of the side. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but just the fact that a bunch of players, who were made to look way out of their depth in a poor I-League, with such a deep defensive line, that between the midfield and the lone forward, you could usually park not one, but two buses!
Often the reason given for such an extremely cautious gameplan was that the boys were too young and would concede way too many goals if they were more adventurous.
Playing some of the most boring football, even by Indian standards, the Pailan Arrows seemed a lost cause.
However in came Arthur Papas, and suddenly this same group of boys, with the rest of the U-22 group, seem to be a rejuvenated lot.
Not only are they winning games against higher ranked opposition, but playing with a brilliant attacking style, pressing the opposition high up the pitch and forcing them into mistakes.
The notion that playing such a style might see them concede too many goals has also been proven to be incorrect, as a defense, built on players of Pailan Arrows like Prathamesh Maulingker and Souvik Ghosh, has kept the best of oppositions on a tight leash.
Papas Has Bought The Best Out Of This Group...
Upfront Alwyn George has risen into national reckoning, and the skillful attacker, who played around half a dozen games and scored 2 goals in the I-League last season, has already doubled that goal tally in U-22 colours, flourishing in Papas’s system.
A high energy midfield, with the likes of Milan Singh, Pranay Halder and D Ganeshan pressing and making life difficult for the opposition has been a key feature in this new system.
While Jeje Lalpekhlua’s contribution hasn’t been as much as was expected from him, this has largely been due to niggling fitness issues.
However Manandeep Singh, still recovering from a family bereavement, has stepped into Jeje’s shoes, and lead the line admirably well for the side. Why wasn't he chosen for the Challenge Cup over the likes of Sushil Singh and others still remains a mystery given the top form he was in for Air India in the I-League.
Lalrindika Ralte is the player who has provided the creativity in midfield, his playmaking skills and trickery playing a vital part in India’s attacking tactics. While Romeo Fernandes, India’s hero against United Arab Emirates and Turkmenistan, has been the real breakthrough star of the tournament.
The Dempo winger is a real handful, and is marked out as one for the future at Dempo, having made his debut last season. Capable of playing as a winger or a striker, he is a player to watchout for in the future, as he looks to be the next in the line of quality wingers that Goa has produced for the national team in recent times.
Hopefully The Progress Of These Colts Will Not Stop, When They Return To Their Clubs...
While India's hopes to qualify for the main event still hang in the balance, with them needing the results to go their way to win automatic entry to the U-22 Championship, overall it has been an inspirational performance by the boys under Papas, as tactics more in tune with modern football have seen the boys flourish.
However in the past too, India has produced some sterling displays at age level tournaments and several youth stars have shone, who have then gone on to disappear from the scene altogether.
Care has to be taken, that once these boys return from the U-22 camp, by their clubs, not only providing them the right training and exposure, but looking after their fitness as well.
This is especially true for the Pailan Arrows youngsters, who one hopes do not revert back to the boring one dimensional football of last two season, having shown under Arthur Papas, that they truly are skilled enough to represent India at the highest of levels and flourishing.