For the first time in the 87-year history of the football's biggest competition, an Indian team will feature in the global sporting extravaganza. As hosts of the Under-17 edition of the tournament, the sub-continental giant has secured its right to compete in the elite competition that for years has served as the breeding ground for future stars.
Though qualification was granted due to hosting rights, no stone has been left unturned in preparing a home squad that is set to capture the imagination of the country when the tournament kicks off this October.
For over two years now, the shrewdest of scouts have gathered, headed by former India international Abhishek Yadav, to select a pool of players worthy of becoming the first to wear the blue Indian jersey at a football World Championship. Crores have been spent in grooming the probables, sending them for exposure trips abroad that have provided the teenagers with crucial match time and experience of playing at a high level.
Never before has an Indian youth team been the recipient of such a great degree of investment in any sport.
Though the Indian team may not have the same pedigree as the rest of the teams in the tournament, they have taken on the challenge with rare zeal. They have fearlessly ventured into unchartered territory not just for Indian football, but for Indian sport.
The result is that the team, under coach Luis Norton de Matos, has developed into a well-rounded unit unafraid of taking on the best in the business. They don’t let rankings or reputations bog them down. Their intensity on the pitch and the will to fight for the ball right through the 90 minutes separates them from the rest of the youth teams.
This India under-17 squad has played with teams from Europe, and recently held Chile to a 1-1 draw during a friendly tournament, also involving Mexico. Their bold attitude and has seen the coach state that making it to the quarterfinals of next month's prestigious tournament is a “legitimate dream.”
Though India relies more on teamwork than individual stars to carry the day, there are a few players who might prove to be the key to their success. Komal Thatal, India’s number 10, has a great sense of movement and his distribution made him the ideal choice to sit in front of the midfield and just behind the striker. Quick-footed, with close ball control skills and the ability to change pace at will, the Sikkim boy’s greatest moment so far, came in the BRICS U-17 tournament last year, when he became the first and only Indian to score against a Brazil team.
Dead-ball specialist Sanjeev Stalin became the first Indian to score in the AFC under-16 Championships last September. The winger has continued to do well during the exposure trips as well and runs back to support the defence as and when required.
At the back, Anwar Ali, the tall defender from Punjab is growing in stature with every outing. A powerful presence at the back, Ali got a call-up to the national team only in April, but has slotted seamlessly into the squad. Strong and assured, the centre-back put up a string of impressive performances during the recent international tours to Europe.
The players know this is their chance of a lifetime to impress on the world stage, and they look ready to seize it. Most of their European and South American counterparts have a lot more tournament exposure, but whatever the team lacks in experience and physicality they will try to make it up with effort and intensity and an indomitable spirit that will serve them well.
Aiding them in this endeavour will be the all-new Nike jersey, armed with advanced technology which will help the talented boys play to their potential. How? The new kit, which will debut in the U17 edition of the World Championship, features a new shade of blue and an orange stripe that runs the length of the jersey and shorts.
That stripe expands when a player is in motion to maximize ventilation, complementing Nike’s proprietary Dri-FIT technology that helps draw sweat away from the body. The result is that the players are able to perform at their best and are always cool, dry and comfortable.
The odds are still stacked heavily against the hosts, who are firmly the underdogs. But the team has nothing to lose and everything to gain from this experience.
Make no mistake, the India U17 team will come out all guns blazing and make sure they give the behemoths of world football a run for their money. For, this is a team that has embodied the spirit of the new, young India! They are talented. They are bold. They are confident. And most of all, they are fearless!
When this lion-hearted team takes to the field in the prestigious tournament in October, a proud country will be rooting for them as a whole. All the team requires is for the fans to be their vocal and morale-boosting 12th man!
Be there to 'Back the Blues' in your all-new Nike jerseys which can be bought here. It all starts on October 6th.