It will be a historic occasion when India's U-17 side take the field against the United States of America (USA) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Friday. For the first time in their footballing history, a team from India will feature in a FIFA World Cup.
Probably, the wait would've been longer had FIFA decided to award the 2017 U-17 World Cup to some other country. In the 2016 AFC U-16 Championships – the tournament that serves as AFC qualifiers for the U-17 World Cup – India finished at the bottom of their group. But that's not how things turned out, and there's hardly any doubt that hosting a major event will definitely be a big boost to the football development in the country.
India will face the likes of USA (6 October), Colombia (9 October) and Ghana (12 October) in their group stage. Unlike India, the three countries have taken significant steps in football so it will be a tough task for the host nation to make an impact against such nations.
India's head coach Luis Norton de Matos is aware of the challenges but he has faith on his team's fighting abilities. “We will fight to win each match even if there is only five percent chance of winning. We will not give up and nothing is impossible in football. We plan to show the world that we are on the same page as them,” de Matos said.
As the team gear up to take the best in the word of football, here's a look at the 21-man squad that will represent India in the showpiece event:
Dheeraj Singh - Age 17, goalkeeper
It's highly unlikely that de Matos would go with anybody but Dheeraj when it comes goalkeeping duties. He has been the team's first choice since the AFC U-16 Championships last year. The boy from Manipur will be quite busy during India's matches but he should count on his experience of coming against big sides. A good shot-stopper, Dheeraj knows a thing or two being the hardest barrier for opponents.
"It is a challenge that I am prepared for. We respect our opponents but as a goalkeeper it is my job to be the hardest barrier the opponents face and I will try to be the hardest barrier that they will ever face in scoring a goal," Dheeraj said.
Prabhsukhan Gill - Age 16, goalkeeper
A product of the Chandigarh Football Academy, Prabhsukhan is expected to play at least one match in the group stages. The Punjab lad has been a part of the U-17 setup since the time of former national team coach Nicolai Adam. De Matos will be hoping that his second-choice keeper will be ready to take up the mantle when needed and live up to the exceptions.
Sunny Dhaliwal - Age 17, goalkeeper
Sunny is one of the tallest players in the World Cup. The 6 feet 5 inch goalkeeper gave up his Canadian passport in order to represent his country of origin. Sunny trained with Major League Soccer club Toronto FC Academy, and also had an offer to join English club Bolton Wanderers. For Sunny, being part of the team in the World Cup will be a great opportunity as he looks to make a career in India.
Sanjeev Stalin - Age 16, defender
The Bengaluru-born left-back is Indian team's dead-ball specialist. Sanjeev will have a big role if India are thinking of winning the matches. Coach de Matos will likely to adopt a pragmatic approach and so he would be counting on Sanjeev's set-piece deliveries for goals. He has already shown his prowess while netting a free-kick against United Arab Emirates in the AFC U-16 Championships.
Boris Singh - Age 17, defender
Boris is known for his pace on the flanks and team would be hoping for inch-perfect crosses from him. The defender from Manipur will miss the first game against USA as he picked a red card against Iran in the AFC U-16 Championship but he will look to start in India's second match against Columbia.
Jitendra Singh - Age 16, defender
The centre-back from West Bengal will hope to be a rock in India's defensive setup. Jitender's brother is also a football player, plying his trade with United Sports Club in the Kolkata league. Much will be dependent on him as India will look to halt the attack from their opponents.
Anwar Ali - Age 17, defender
Jitender will be looking for a solid partner in Anwar. Born in Adampur, in the district of Jalandhar, Anwar is one of the four players in the squad from the Minerva Academy. Compared to others, Anwar came into the team pretty late but since then has established himself in the playing XI. Anwar's biggest strengths is his height and he would also look to make most it.
Hendry Antonay - Age 17, defender
Antonay's fortunes were reversed once former coach Nicolai Adam was forced to quit. The right-back was told to leave as ex-coach deemed him to be a surplus to the team. He was also not named in the 30-man probables list but de Matos had trust on the Karnataka youngster and he was recalled back into the team. Antonay's aggressiveness during crunch situations could prove to be vital for the team.
Namit Deshpande - Age 17, defender
Deshpande left Mumbai to USA when he was just six. He fell in love with football, or as they Soccer in USA early on, and got into US Soccer Development Academy. Deshpande wanted to represent India and sent his videos to the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Impressed by the defender after a trial in Brazil, the then coach Adam asked him to join the team. He also excelled in the trials conducted by de Matos in Goa and the coach had no problem in selecting him for the national team.
Suresh Singh - Age 17, midfielder
The midfield mainstay, Suresh captained the Indian side in the AFC U-16 Championships last year. Yet another player from Manipur, Suresh has earned quite a reputation for his vision and intelligence on the pitch. De Matos will want his midfield maestro to be bring his A game in the World Cup.
Amarjit Singh - Age 16, midfielder
Amarjit was elected as the captain of the Indian team by his teammates. Apart from his attacking ability, Amarjit is also known for his defensive expertise, and therefore he's a perfect fit as s defensive midfielder in the team. Amarjit's leadership qualities was pretty evident from the time he came into the U-17 system so no wonder other took notice of this.
“I speak when it is needed, I don’t speak unnecessarily. I don’t mince words (when I feel it is necessary). There is no particular philosophy of my captaincy. In fact, I want everyone to be a captain in their own right and dominate their part of the pitch,” he said, when asked about his captaincy.
Jeakson Singh - Age 16, midfielder
Another one of those Manipur boys and a cousin of team's captain Amarjit, Jeakson left his hometown Thoubal at an early age of 11 to join the famed Chandigarh Football Academy. After honing his skills, Jeakson shifted to the Minerva Academy. He impressed the national coach De Matos in a match where Minerva Academy defeated the national U-17 team.
Komal Thatal - Age 17, midfielder
Thatal goal-scoring record speaks for itself. The boy from Sikkim is the leading scorer of the U-17 team with nine goals. Thatal will look to trouble his opponents using his pace and dribbling skills on the left flank. No wonder he considers Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho as his idol.
Ninthoinganba Meetei - Age 16, midfielder
Even at such a young age, Manipur's Meetie is an inspiration. Just two months ago, Meetei suffered a tragedy while training with the national team in Delhi. His father passed away due to thyroid cancer. But just days after his father's demise, Meetei was back on the field. Coach de Matos will most probably use Meetei in the second half when the team will be in need of a super sub.
Lalengmawia - Age 16, midfielder
Mizoram's Lalengmawia will also be used as a substitute by the coach. De Matos will introduce Lalengmawia to provide stability in the midfield. He will also be useful in disrupting opposition's play, breaking their momentum and making sure that they don't find the rhythm.
Nongdamba Naorem - Age 17, midfielder
Born in Imphal, Naorem was bitten by the football pretty early in his life. Naorem entered the national team after impressive performances for Minerva Academy. His goal for Minerva helped the side beat the U-17 national team in a friendly and coach De Matos made sure he includes Naorem in the squad for the World Cup. Naorem can play on both the flanks and he's a good passer of the ball.
Rahul Praveen - Age 17, midfielder
Hailing from Thrissur in Kerala, Rahul's talent was spotted during a coaching camp. His first big breakthrough came when was selected to represent the state U-14 side. Since then, he has been part of the various football camps and finally made his way to the national team. Rahul's strength lies in the fact that he uses both feet to cause damage.
Mohammad Shahjahan - Age 17, midfielder
Even after finding a spot in national U-17 team, Shahjahan was considering quitting football as he was frustrated with former coach Adam. Not finding a suitable position and lack of game time was driving Shahjahan to the edge. But it was Minerva Academy that a new hope to Shahjahan and he was back to his best. It was also in the same match that Minerva boys defeated the national team that coach de Matos noticed Shahjahan's talent and he was back into the national setup.
Abhijit Sarkar - Age 17, midfielder
Sarkar will don the No 10 jersey for India, and it doesn't come as a surprise considering his outstanding showing during team's exposure tours. Coming from a football-crazy state West Bengal, Abhijit started playing from a young age of five. It was impossible to ignore his talent and it didn't take much time before he was drafted into AIFF's elite academy in Goa. The team will heavily rely on Abhijit's creative play and his penchant for scoring goals.
Aniket Jadhav - Age 17, striker
The Kolhapur-born youngster is one of India's most promising youth talents. The left-footed forward has been among the thick of things since India first started to build team for the World Cup.
Jadhav's attributes include his pace as well as creating chances for others. He's a perfect fit for the No 9 role in the team. If Jadhav finds his feet and makes maximum use of the opportunity then there's a big chance of India making an impact in the tournament.
Rahim Ali - Age 17, striker
Starting his football career in Mohun Bagan's youth team, Rahim's physicality will be key to de Matos' team. The 6-foot-tall striker will also be a threat during set-pieces. Rahim might not play an entire match but coach de Matos would hope that his shooting skills are up to the mark whenever he gets a chance.
Updated Date: Oct 06, 2017 18:35 PM