FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Despite loss, Jeakson Singh's maiden goal shows India can threaten better sides

In the coming days, when India will take stock of their first ever World Cup campaign, a moment will stand out. Never before had the country played in a FIFA event, let alone scoring a goal. Now they can claim to have done both. If nothing else, the 48,354 who turned up at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Monday will take that home. A header which boomed.

India’s frustrations were rising. As the match entered the 82nd minute, some feared the best chances had arrived and left. But there it was. A corner. Left-back Sanjeev Stalin raising his arm, giving notice to his teammates. He was about to deliver a dipping ball. Nobody knew.

Jeakson Singh, brought into the side to help India have a greater presence in central areas, did not rise the tallest. But the ball found him among a cluster. It was destined for him. Still, there was work to do. Jeakson’s head, with its unruffled hair, was directed to move by a quick jerk of the neck. The ball shot to the top corner. Cue hysteria.

Jeakson Singh celebrates with teammates after scoring India's first goal during  the FIFA U-17 World Cup. PTI

Jeakson Singh celebrates with teammates after scoring India's first goal during the FIFA U-17 World Cup. PTI

It was, however, the beginning of another cruel lesson. “It was like the boys were in a dream,” said Indian coach Luis Norton de Matos. A minute later, Colombia snapped India. Still riding the high of the equaliser, the Indian boys switched off to allow Juan Penaloza his second strike of the night. Game over.

While there were many who emerged with credit in the Indian side, Matos was not among them. He made strange choices all evening, most notably making only two substitutions when he was chasing the game. The third sub never arrived, with the pacey figure of Komal Thatal merely looking on from the sidelines.

The four changes to the starting line-up also evoked confusion. Aniket Jadhav and Thatal had been among India’s better performers against the USA but there was no place for them as Rahim Ali came into the side. KP Rahul, who had started the first match as a right back, was fielded in his more natural position as a midfielder on the left.

India did stick to their formation of choice 4-4-1-1, though, with two banks of four expected to protect the side. Colombia, like India, rang in four changes but their system offered a more attacking visage. Head coach Orlando Restrepo chose a lopsided formation which could be loosely described as 3-4-2-1. Colombia had a full-back on the left and Penaloza playing as a quasi wingback on the other flank. Leandro Campaz stretched play on the left wing by hugging the touchline.

The hosts began slowly and it was the Colombians who seemed more proactive. However, the South American side’s insistence on long passes did not trouble India much. In fact, Matos’ boys were held back by their own poor distribution. Bad decisions littered the pitch.

However, there was greater vitality going forward. Abhijit Sarkar blazed over after a neat exchange with Rahim Ali. Whenever the home side found space to work its combinations, possibilities emerged. India is built to play counter attacking football but the style does not suit its skill set. The lack of pace is obvious. But Matos is limited by his wish to keep the side defensively compact. Hence, opportunities to unpick the opposition are usually few and far in between.

Dheeraj Singh, though, once again rose to the occasion. After a few iffy passes in the beginning, he produced a string of exceptional saves. The goalkeeper’s effort to deny the header by Campaz was one brilliant effort. His punch to deny Yadir Meneses towards the end of the first period was another.

However, India had an unfortunate end to the first half as Rahul could only strike the upright after Boris Thangjam found him with a delightful ball on the left side of the box. Rahul’s drilled shot left many gasping. But they could only sigh as the teams went goalless at the interval.

It was Colombia who responded after the break. Rejuvenated, coach Restrepo’s boys attacked India with pace. Four minutes into the second period, they were ahead thanks to a stinging shot by Penaloza. In the lead, Restrepo changed his side’s shape to a more conventional 4-2-3-1 with the versatile goal scorer moving into the lone forward’s position.

India, though, waited until the 75th minute before choosing a more attacking approach. Aniket had been brought on 10 minutes ago but it was the introduction of Nongdamba Naorem which saw the shift to 4-2-3-1 – Rahul returned to the right back’s position. The change immediately worked as Naorem was set up by Jadhav for a finish from close range but he could not find the target.

Komal, meanwhile, warmed up behind the goal with no sign that his introduction was in the offing. The game was crying out for pace. Matos, though, would not budge. Jeakson’s goal provided momentary relief but India learnt its lesson the hard way once again, just like it had against the US when Andrew Carelton scored the third goal. Once it fell behind the second time, the hosts failed to threaten the Colombians.

A draw would have been a fair result but, just like Restrepo had wished, Colombia showed more decisiveness in its football. Matos was understandably proud of the Indian side. However, one wondered if it was his decisions which held India back. On the positive side, unlike the match against the United States, India demonstrated that they can compete with and threaten better sides. But it is unfortunate that the hosts have nothing to show for that. Except a goal.

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2017 13:31 PM

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