FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Buoyed by foreign exposure trips, confident India ready for biggest challenge yet

"Main ab bahut confident ho gaya hoon. Over-confident nahin, confident. (I've become more confident now. Not over-confident.)"

For a country where even senior national team footballers can be shy or get painfully tongue-tied when talking to the media, Sanjeev Stalin is a breath of fresh air.

India's Sanjeev Stalin during a training session. Image courtesy: AIFF

India's Sanjeev Stalin during a training session. Image courtesy: AIFF

As articulate with words as he is effective with his tackles on the pitch, Stalin is part of the Indian team which, come 6 October, will be the first ever from the nation to compete in a FIFA World Cup, albeit at the U-17 level.

"Our first target is making it out of the group stages. Our coach has told us that winning matches is a must," says Stalin, who will be the India U-17 team's defensive mainstay at the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup.

It's safe to say that this Indian team will be the most prepared team from the nation to compete at a tournament. Since 2015, the U-17 team has travelled to 14 countries for exposure trips. These have include trips to nations like Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Mexico, South Africa and UAE, cutting across four continents.

But how have those trips helped the players?

"Ever since I have been in the India team, I have developed as a player and a person," adds Stalin.

Not just confidence, the players' mentality also has changed.

Stalin's teammate Komal Thatal points out: "Now, I would take losing to a very good opponent 1-0 any day rather than beating an easy team 5-0.

"We have improved in all aspects. The exposure trips have been very helpful for us and playing against bigger, stronger and technically better opponents has improved my dribbling and passing game drastically."

Captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam adds: "Of course we have grown technically with each match that we have played abroad. Playing in midfield, I've now understood that I need to maintain my position irrespective of what's happening. But more importantly, we have now understood how we need to react when we lose a match."

India have been placed in a tough group, which they co-habit along with North American heavyweights USA, African giants Ghana and South American heavy-hitters Colombia. While the top two teams are guaranteed qualification to the next round, the best four third-placed teams will also get entry into the Round of 16. This means India will have to manage a decent recent result against at least one of the teams.

"The coach has said to take one match at a time and enjoy every game. He asked us to play like it is your last game of football, giving your cent percent," Thatal says.


Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 12:20 PM

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