The FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017, which kicks off on October 6th, is a spectacle the country of India has been anticipating for a long time now. Not only is it the first time the country is hosting a FIFA tournament but it also meant that India get to participate in their first ever World Cup across all age groups.
Ever since the tournament's hosting right was awarded to India, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been striving to ensure the team that represents India in the tournament will be an outfit capable of standing toe-to-toe with the global giants of the game.
As starters, German coach Nicolai Adam was put in charge of the team in 2015. Following which, the scouting team of the AIFF, led by former India international Abhishek Yadav along with Nicolai Adam, identified and put together some of the best young talents in the country to ensure they are given the best training and facilities till the World Cup.
There were changes to the group as time went on and also with the coach parting ways earlier this year. Former Benfica youth coach Luis Norton de Matos came in and made some tweaks to the squad, took them on exposure trips to Europe and Central America before the final list of 21 players were announced recently.
How did AIFF manage to unearth the 21 lads who will don the national team colours in the global event next month?
It has to be noted that the AIFF's scouting team conducted several trials all over the country and cherrypicked the best from the India U14 national team. Now, let's take a look at how each of the squad members came to be a part of the elite group:
Two of the lads were scouted from the trials conducted at Mumbai in 2015. Those who caught the eye of Nicolai Adam and Abhishek Yadav in Mumbai were star striker Aniket Jadhav and full-back Hendry Antonay.
Midfielder Nonthoinganba Meetei was identified during the trials held in Manipur while Lalengmawia (midfielder) was picked up during the trials held in neighbouring Mizoram.
Several of the boys were already a part of the AIFF's Elite academy and were handpicked from the team. Defender Jitendra Singh (first identified during the 2013 U14 national football championship), midfielder Abhijit Sarkar, goalkeepers Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem and Prabhsukhan Singh Gill were all part of the academy and were selected from there.
Defender Boris Singh was also scouted into the AIFF Elite academy during the U14 national football championships, where he led Manipur to the title.
Midfielder Rahul Kannoly Praveen was also a part of the academy but was let go to train with the Under-19 squad before being inducted into the U17 team.
Three of them announced themselves with their performance in the 2015 Under-16 National Football Championship in Kolkata - Sikkim Komal Thatal (midfielder), Manipur's Suresh Singh Wangjam (midfielder) and West Bengal's Rahim Ali (forward).
Team captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam (midfielder) and Sanjeev Stalin (defender) were scouted in 2015 from the Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) after making a name for themselves there. They were scouted when the CFA team was in Goa and Stalin was a part of the 'B' team initially before Adam promoted him to the first team.
Four members of the squad came to be a part of the team after impressive performances for Minerva Punjab in the U16 I-League final against Ozone FC. Thereafter, they were called for practice games against the India U17 and U15 teams in Goa, where they shone through. Star midfielder Jackson Singh Thaunaojam, defender Anwar Ali, forward Nongdamba Naorem and midfielder Mohammad Shahjahan were the four who made it into the team.
It is worth noting that Shahjahan and Anwar Ali were initially a part of the AIFF Elite academy before being let go in 2015.
Another one of Abhishek Yadav's brainchild, the Overseas Scouting Project (OSP) which was implemented in association with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), helped bring Namit Deshpande into the fold. Though the US-based defender could not be convinced to join the team in 2016 by Nicolai Adam, he would be brought into the team in May 2017 by Luis Norton de Matos.
Canada-born goalkeeper Sunny Dhaliwal's journey to the India U17 is a storied one. Since he did not have a valid Indian passport, his father sent videos of his skills to Abhishek Yadav, who invited him for trials. After impressing Luis Norton de Matos, the AIFF and SAI worked in tandem to procure an Indian passport for the strapping lad and ultimately a spot in the U17 World Cup team.