India bow to American might

India bow to American might
It was an uneven contest. In flamboyance and experience, India paled in comparison to the United States in their opening contest of the FIFA under-17 World Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Friday.

India’s 3-0 loss in the Group A game was not disconcerting. And their spirit to fight certainly did not leave them embarrassed in front of a cheering fan support.

The decent gathering at the expansive stadium cranked up the noise levels, thanks to the thousands of school children ferried in buses. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also paid a visit and felicitated several former Indian footballers, including Bhaichung Bhutia and IM Vijayan.

Though India trailed by a good margin, many stayed till the last cheering for the youngsters who approached the match with pluck and enthusiasm. Their reputed opponents sedately went about their business, and even coach John Hackworth could take occasional breaks in the dugout. His counterpart Luis Norton de Matos, though, was a study in contrast.

As the American attacking flair became intimidating, the Indians found themselves rooted in their half. For the majority of the first half, the Indian struggled to go past the American midfield. With the Indians under pressure, most of the action took place in their half. So much so, forward Aniket Jadhav was left with little to do and mostly helped in the flanks.

The star American captain Josh Sargent tested the determined Indian backline but Jitendra Singh and Anwar managed to keep out his threat.  However, in the 30th minute, Jitendra tugged Sargent inside the box. The American fell, and India conceded a penalty. If Matos was livid, Jitendra was close to tears. Sargent comfortably slotted it in to give the USA the lead.

However, the last 15 minutes saw India playing a bit more freely, with Jadhav even achieving the rare feat of shooting at the goal. The scoreline, however, remained static and India entered the break morose, 0-1 behind, despite knitting a good defence.

The Americans quickly stretched their lead in the second half. In the 51st minute, Chris Durkin picked a loose ball in the Indian box to make it 2-0 after it deflected off Anwar leaving goalkeeper Dheeraj Moirangthem little time to do anything.

It, though, didn’t deter the Indian boys who were making repeated forays into the American box. It didn’t lead to anything, but it earned them the respect of the crowd, who were wholeheartedly cheering every move. In an excellent opportunity for India, Suresh Wangjam’s lofted ball beat the American defence and found Komal Thatal, who was impressive on both flanks, near the box on the right. Seeing the goalkeeper advance, he lobbed the ball but wide of the bar.

However, the moment which would hurt India the most came in the 83rd minute when they nearly scored a goal off a corner. Komal sent the cross but Anwar’s shot hit the bar. The Indians had barely recovered from it before the American scored through a counter off Andrew Carleton (84th).

The cheers 'let's go India” grew louder, but there was nothing the Indians could have done more. Up against one of the best sides in the tournament, they gave their best. They won hearts, if not the contest.
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