India U17 World Cup team are all set to create ripples in the annals of Indian football when they take to the field against the USA on October 6th in the opening game of the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup in New Delhi.
The team will become the first ever Indian team across any age group to take part in a World Cup. A lot of effort has gone into grooming the team ever since the country was granted hosting rights for the event, with it the automatic qualification as well.
Crores have been spent in identifying the right talent, providing them the best facilities and sending them on exposure tours all over the world. Nicolai Adam, a German youth coach, was appointed to hone and polish the talent of the team which was going to put India on the world map of football.
The 2016 AFC U16 Championship held in India in September was one of the first real tests for this young team, with a chance to see where they stood in respect to the powerhouses of the continent. India were drawn into a tough group consisting of Saudi Arabia, eventual winners Iraq and UAE. The colts could only manage a draw (against Saudi Arabia) and two losses.
India have come a long way from then and have been moulded into a competitive unit that managed encouraging results on their European tours and even managed to hold 2017 South American U17 Championship runners-up Chile in a tournament in Mexico.
Only 12 players from the 21-member squad that played in the AFC U16 Championship have made the U17 World Cup team - namely Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill (both GKs), Boris Singh Thangjam, Jitendra Singh, Sanjeev Stalin (all defenders), Suresh Singh Wangjam, Khumanthem Ninthoinganba Meetei, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Komal Thatal, Aniket Jadhav, Lalengmawia (all midfielders) and Rahul Kannoly Praveen (forward).
Anwar Ali and Hendry Antonay came in to strengthen the defence. Mohammad Shahjahan, Abhijit Sarkar and Jackson Singh Thaunaojam solidifed the midfield and the strike force was boosted by the additions of Nongdamba Naorem and Rahim Ali.
The coach has also changed with Portuguese tactician Luis Norton de Matos in charge of the team now. The coach, who wanted some physical presence in defence, has brought in Canada-based goalkeeper Sunny Dhaliwal and USA-based defender Namit Deshpande using the AIFF's Overseas Scouting Programme (OSP).
There are high hopes on these young shoulders and one hopes it is not overburdening but one thing is for sure, when they step on to the field on October 6th, it will be a giant leap for Indian football.