In a matter of pride for the entire nation, the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) Regional Academy boys finished fourth in the International Youth Tournament, their first, in Holland on Sunday.
The boys, who form an integral part of the U-16 Indian national side, lost marginally to Dutch heavyweights AZ Alkmaar’s Youth team for third place.
This was after they lost to Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv in a cross final (a match to determines one’s entry into the final of the tournament). What’s surprising is that the Indians lost both matches after dominating them outright.
The saplings had earlier beaten the likes of Deportivo Saint Maickol and SBV Excelsior, both by a margin of 1-0, before drawing 2-2 with current champions FC Volendam, a team against whom they made a comeback to lead before eventually surrendering the initiative.
The cross final witnessed the Israeli side, fresh from a double 7-0 rout of group opposition before drawing 1-1 with AZ Alkmaar, dominating the opening stages of play, though the Blue Tigers were combating well with the advancing opposition, looking for the counter.
The Tel Aviv side though took the lead in the last minute of a frantic first half as a penalty would foil India’s successful attempts to hold on. The opposition converted, bluffing keeper Dheeraj Singh.
The second half saw role reversal as it was the Indians who pressed hard with the Israeli’s sitting deep. The match drained on and though India made significant progress, they were unable to beat the Israeli’s who advanced to the final.
In the third place decider, against AZ Alkmaar, Dheeraj Singh again came under scrutiny as he failed to gather an aerial ball, conceding at the far post in the first half. With a mountain to climb, the young Tigers rallied to score in the dying embers of added time in the second half after Edmund Lalrindika, romped past two defenders and squaring the ball to Bodo Baoringdao, who tapped in to ensure parity at the final whistle.
Direct penalties followed and it was the Indians who would conceded the match when Nijwm Muchahary, the in-form talisman for the side, missed his penalty after Prosenjit Chakroborty and Krishna Pandit had scored from the spot, when the score was at 3-2.
The boys can keep their head high however as fourth place in an international tournament pays testament ot their continued improvement.