India look for a brighter dawn

India look for a brighter dawn
The imposing structure of the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium is visible from a distance. Situated in the heart of the national capital, the venue, upgraded for the FIFA under-17 World Cup, has quietly undergone a transformation for the biggest football extravaganza in the country. Along with the nation, it awaits a new dawn for football in India, as teenaged talent from the country makes its maiden entry into the event.

Flaunting stylish haircuts and mimicking the top stars, the squad of 21 Indian boys, led by Amarjit Singh Kiyam, pose every bit like their footballing heroes. Football in India has forever been hunting for opportunities, and as such, the hosting of the under-17 World Cup is a rare occasion for the youth to showcase its talent.

The past masters of the game from the country never got a chance to play in a World Cup. Never before did the government and the All India Football Federation spend so much money on football and exposure trips for the team. Competitions abroad weren’t frequent for the former greats of the game. They invariably swell with pride when they hear the travel tales of these youngsters, who have been crisscrossing continents to prepare for the premier event.

Unlike their fancied rivals spread across various groups, India have no history in the under-17 World Cup, considered to be the first step in the mean world of competitive football. Neymar Jr, Andres Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Toni Kroos, Nwankwo Kanu, Gianluigi Buffon – the list of players who first cut their teeth in this tournament is pretty long. It is also not lost on India that they are no world beaters. The gap between them and their rivals is as broad as daylight. Sure, Indian colts have given a decent display during various friendlies even though they lack competitive experience. But then they are first-timers, ready to set the ball rolling into the Indian history.

The hosts open against the USA, a team with as expansive a support staff as its squad. The country has the experience of sending teams in 15 editions, with their best showing coming in 1999 in New Zealand. The current side boasts of two exciting talents in Josh Sargent and Tim Weah. Sargent will sign with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen next February when he turns 18.

In their meeting with India in Goa last year, they had carved out a comfortable 4-0 win. To prepare for the heat and humidity here, they had a week-long camp in Dubai and are eager to better their group stage exit in the previous edition in Chile. Ghana, the former champions, and Colombia are the other teams for India to contend with in the group.

The other teams, too, boast of budding stars. Brazil, though missing Vinicius Junior, who was not allowed by his club Flamengo to play in the tournament, have a top talent in Paulinho. England feature Jadon Sancho, who will only participate in the group phase owing to his club commitments. The journey and expectations of Indian players will be totally different from their peers.

No one, including coach Luis Norton De Matos, is looking beyond their three group matches. But then sport is not just about results, it is also about the fight and challenge that a team displays on the field. For Indian boys, it will be about showing heart, to exhibit to the world the power of sport to push boundaries.
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