If India U-17 coach Luis Norton de Matos was worried by what had transpired in the FIFA U-17 World Cup draw on Friday evening, he made a good job of hiding it. It was at least a better effort than the lip-syncing the tournament's Vice President Babul Supriyo and music composer Pritam had tried to pull off while revealing the tournament's official song 'Kar Ke Dikhla De Goal'.
When he strode out for the press conference at a city hotel minutes after his team had drawn USA, Colombia and Ghana, De Matos sounded confident. Almost defiant.
"I am not afraid. My team is not afraid. We accept this draw be cause with my experience we know that in football there are no impossible missions. Even if our competitors are very tough, we're going to fight in every game even for the little possibility of a win," Matos told reporters.
While India could have drawn much bigger teams in the draw, USA, Ghana and Colombia are formidable opponents at this age group.
The Americans have competed in 15 out of the 16 World Cups held at this age group. While in 2015, they made an exit at the group stage, they have had four quarter-final finishes besides a 4th place in the 1999 edition. They have showed they are a force to reckon with in the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, where they finished second after a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Mexico in the final match.
Two-time champions Ghana also are in the group. The African powerhouse went on an incredible run in the 1990s, where they made it to the final of four editions out of five. While three of those finals ended in dejection, twice, in 1991 and 1995, they lifted the glittering trophy. In fact, in 1995 they had stunned Brazil, which had players of the calibre of Julio Cesar in their ranks, in the final. Four years before that, it had been Spain who had endured defeat in the summit clash at the hands of a spirited Ghana team. However, after that phase, the African team went through a slump, making it to the World Cup finals just twice.
This time around, Ghana have been in stellar form in the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations. They became the first team from the continent to seal entry into the World Cup, but lost to Mali in the final. They were involved in some goal-heavy matches in the run up to that final like their 4-0 blanking of Cameroon or the 5-0 thumping of Gabon.
Also in the group are Colombia, who India will face in Mexico in a four-nation competition in a few weeks along with the hosts and Chile. The South American team have not made it to an U-17 World Cup since 2009, where they had defied expectations to finish third. They have participated in five editions, finishing third on two occasions. This time around, it took them a last-ditch win over Paraguay to make it to the World Cup.
"All three teams are difficult," Matos said. "They play different types of football. Colombia is a typical South American team, but they are always among the top 4 teams in South America alongside Brazil and Argentina. Their players are playing in lower divisions. In the USA team, there's a tradition as well while Ghana are one of the best African teams."
Matos went on say that he would like the fans in the stadium to be India's 12th man. Unfortunately, as successive seasons of the Indian Super League have shown us, New Delhi, where the national team will play their group matches, draws the smallest crowds for football matches among the six venues which will host the World Cup in October.
"The most important thing that the other teams have is experience. When we play against these teams at the U-17 level, their players have 10 years of experience. It is impossible for any country to give their players this experience in four or five months. But we're not going to give excuses. We'll watch videos of all three teams and analyse them"
"But we're not afraid."
Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 15:22:42 IST