By Veturi Srivatsa (20:18)
Few would have put money on India beating the United States or even sharing points with them in their FIFA Under-17 World Cup opener at Delhis Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Friday.
All the same all the Indians who turned up to witness the match and those watching on television must have had goosebumps when the national anthem was played before the kick-off.
Some critics thought India were no match to the Americans and the charitable ones saw the teenagers as game triers. The Indians had their share of moments, showing plenty of spirit, some skills but they could not match the strides of their opponents. The class difference was there for all to see.
Only when you see some of the European, Latin American and African teams you realise the wide gap between them and the Indians in performance charts. The Indian youngsters tried their best, logging thousands of air miles flying to Europe and the Americas for preparing for the big occasion. None of their predecessor senior teams had such luxury as they had to make do playing lowly club sides.
Coming from humble backgrounds, the boys knew what it takes to be tough and you cannot fault their application. With a little luck they could have retired with a 2-1 defeat from a decent outing, but there is no denying the fact they were mostly playing the catching up game.
Now to fault defender Jitendra Singh for the foul to concede a penalty and the resultant goal is easy, but then one could see an element of gamesmanship by the US captain making it look abit dramatic, though it did not look all that apparent.
The problem now is how the young men have taken the defeat. If they are positive they will strive to put up a better show in their remaining games against Columbia and Ghana, the other teams in their group, or they will be so dispirted that they will cave in.
It is for the coach and the support staff to pep them up and tell them their best need be matching the best in the business, but they can make 50,000-odd thousand spectators watching their matches happy. They theselves will be seen as futures stars of Indian football. They have already shown glimpses of it in the opening match.
Coach Luís Norton de Matos was diplomatic in patting his wards. The former Portugese international and Benfica star, 63, said he was happy with the collective effort of the players, but unhappy with the result, grudgingly admitting that there is hug gap between the the teams.
As is the case with most Indian teams at all levels, be it hockey or football, the goalkeepers are always seen in a better light and so has been Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem. He was kept busy and he looked confident enough. He could have done little with the penalty as he was sent the wrong way. And so with the second goal which came off a deflection.
He has talked of his bitter-sweet experience and he now knows what it is to be under the bar in a World Cup match. He has summed it up for all his team, every time he went out to play he wanted to win and said it was hard to digest the loss. He is right it does not take long for the game to change at international level.
Komal Thatal is another player who caught eye with his dribbling skills. The Indians by nature enjoy watching anyone who can make his feet talk with the football.
All of them would have still been celebrating if only Anwar Ali’s attempt had not ended up on the woodwork. It is not to say they would have saved the game, but a close result would have made them that much more confident.
They can still make it count with their performance in the remaining two matches. They will all be still be seen as World Cuppers and with Indian football opening up with a lot of avenues to make it as professionals they can aim for bigger things.
It’s time India stopped talking about good old days of playing in the Olympics some 70 yeas ago or winning the Asian Games gold fifty years ago.
We should look forward to seeing India playing in the Asian Games, if not the Olympics.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)