Why Anwar Ali is the biggest find for India from the U17 World Cup!

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AIFF Media
The Punjabi defender has been an absolute rock at the back for Luis Norton de Matos' side and looks a cut above the rest....

We are only eight days into the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup but the hosts, India, have already crashed out in the group stages after three losses to USA, Ghana and Colombia. But it was never a surprise given that this was India, a minnow in footballing terms, participating in their first ever World Cup across any age group. 

Playing on a level footing with the best in the world despite constraints like lack of regular competitive games and no proper footballing season, the Colts managed to put up creditworthy performances that inspired the nation's footballing fraternity. 

There were plenty of positives for Indian football, with several of the youngsters showing that they could well step up to the next level and carry the burden of the nation's hopes even under immense pressure. To name a few - Jeakson Singh who scored that memorable goal against Colombia, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem with his enterprising goalkeeping, Boris Singh who displayed tireless and positive running up and down the right flank and Anwar Ali - the rock at the back!

Against three teams which physically and technically outclassed India, the team held their own and emerged with their heads held high. It was largely thanks to the exceptional defensive organisation that Portuguese head coach Luis Norton de Matos drilled into the side. 

Anwar Ali India U17

And the key piece to Norton de Matos' defensive jigsaw was Anwar Ali. The tall defender was an inspiring figure at the back in all the three games for India and it wouldn't be amiss to say that even after the dust settles on this historic World Cup campaign, the gem that Anwar Ali is will still shine through. 

Intriguingly, Anwar was not part of the original group of players selected for the U17 World Cup team back in 2015. In fact, he came into the team only in March this year after Norton de Matos took over the team after former coach Nicolai Adam parted ways in January. 

Anwar, along with Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem and Mohammed Shahjahan, were integral parts of the Minerva Punjab team which won the U16 I-League in February. The AIFF scouts, led by Abhishek Yadav, had already spotted Anwar's impressive performances. Duly, the Minerva Punjab team was invited for a practice game against the U17 World Cup team. Anwar's performance in a 1-0 win managed to capture the attention of the Portuguese coach, who was on the lookout for tall defenders, as well. 

That decision has turned out to be an inspired move from the coach with Anwar coming into his own with confident performances which gave India's defence a solid look. Anwar Ali was decisive and forceful in his challenges in all three games and rarely put a foot wrong, showing a certain rare composure which is normally not found in a 17-year-old. 

So impressive was he in organising the defensive line that all three of India's opponents had to attack through the flanks to get at them. Even then, being one of the tallest men in the Indian team, his aerial prowess came to the fore. 

In fact, India's resolute defence was breached only late on in all three games - USA led only by two goals (one a dubious penalty and another a deflected goal) till the 84th minute. Colombia scored their winner only in the 83rd minute while Ghana, who were head and shoulders above India, were also only two goals up until the 86th minute. It just goes to show how hard India made it for seasoned footballing nations to carve them open. And the credit, in no small part, goes to Anwar Ali as well! 

One only needs to note that Norton de Matos changed his central defensive pairing around - for various reasons - in all the three games but Anwar Ali was the one constant. It was not hard to easy to see why even when one looked past his immaculate tackling and aerial skills. On the rare occasions that India got to build out from the back, Anwar was very comfortable on the ball and looked to pick out a teammate rather than punting it long up the pitch - a welcome change when it comes to Indian defenders. 

India U17 USA U17 2017 U17 World Cup

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But the qualities that really made Anwar stand out is his temperament and reading of the game. There were several occasions during India's games when the pacy and physical attackers would get the better of the fullbacks and maraud into the penalty box. Inevitably, Anwar would be present to put in a block or a tackle, having read the move perfectly. That, he was able to do all this with a calm head when an entire nation was watching expectantly shows the temperament of the defender. 

On the basis of what we have seen in the last 10 days, not much fazes Anwar - even physically stronger and pacier attackers. These are qualities that make a defender worth his weight in gold. The way he played the Colombia game, despite being knocked about by opponents built in the mould of Patton tanks, to keep them at bay for most of the game showed that he is a fighter who will see his job to the end, no matter what the obstacle. 

There are no two ways about it - Anwar Ali was India U17's rock at the back! All that rock needs now is a bit of polish and the right treatment to turn into a gem. Even without it, he is shining brighter than most young talents in the country!

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