On Monday morning, football lovers in India woke up to a double bonanza. Two of India’s youth teams had attained headline-grabbing results in different parts of the world. At Jordan, the India U16 outfit prevailed over reigning Asian champions Iraq by a solitary goal while at L’Alcudia in Spain, the U20 squad registered a historic first-ever win over their Argentina counterparts.
While both results in themselves were eye-popping, beating six-time U20 World Cup champions Argentina in the COTIF tournament takes the cake. That the win over Lionel Scaloni’s men came just after the side had held current U20 World Cup runners-ups Venezuela to a goalless draw shows the giant strides Floyd Pinto and his team have made.
There were many things to admire about the victory of the U20 side on Sunday. To see the side fight hard for a memorable win against an opponent with a pedigree as high as they come in U20 football was a noteworthy feat in itself. That it had come after India technically had nothing to play for given their losses to Murcia and Mauritania in their opening two COTIF matches was even more pleasing.
Of course, the most striking aspect of the win was that it had come with India down to 10 men for 26 minutes following a red card to forward Aniket Jadhav. For many periods in the match, India’s defence was put under the pump by the South Americans with Prabhsukhan Gill’s goal coming being peppered by shots. But, Pinto’s men withstood the onslaught and managed to survive. In the end, not only did they survive, they flourished.
This was an Argentina side preparing for the crucial 2019 U20 World Cup qualifiers with technical director Pablo Aimar in tow. Quite simply, the effort was Herculean while the outcome was reverberating for Indian football.
The significance of the victory to Indian youth football cannot be understated. It is a win which bears testament to the continuing efforts of All India Football Federation (AIFF), Sports Authority of India and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
The core of this very team was the one which turned out for India’s maiden participation in the U17 World Cup held at home last year. The two goal-scorers Deepak Tangri and Anwar Ali were both vital cogs in Luis Norton de Matos’ U17 squad which has been the centre of attention of the AIFF’s efforts over the past two years or so. Many of these players are playing above their age-group with the rest of the squad comprising of a few of Pinto’s U-19 players.
This squad was provided an unprecedented amount of exposure trips across Europe and South America before their participation in the U17 World Cup and the AIFF has sought to continue their development as a single unit with their progression to the U20 squad as well as the Indian Arrows.
The exposure trips have continued with their progression to the next age-group with the COTIF tournament participation in itself being another pertinent example.
The win against Argentina is the governing body reaping the rewards of their continuous efforts towards these set of boys. That this team could form the core of the senior Indian team a few years down the line is not incomprehensible and as such, the win bodes extremely well for the future of football in the country.
The governing body has invested heavily into this team and they need to be given some credit for their efforts. Based on Sunday’s result, the ‘hype’ around the team just got real.
We can hope that the win against Argentina serves as a springboard for something even more momentous in the future but, for now, it serves as a vindication of the efforts being put into the Indian youth football and long may it continue.