NEW DELHI: And just like that, it's done. The Indian football team's brief, albeit memorable World Cup journey is over. Sandwiched between two games where they were comprehensively outplayed and dominated, there was a 90-minute battle against Colombia fought on a more even keeling and a first ever World Cup goal. For a country that was, not so long ago, 176th in the world, those are not bad things to take away.
Thursday at the JN Stadium was India's worst night at the U-17 World Cup. The first half, as has been the case for all three games, saw surprisingly solid defence with Anwar Ali the rock in the backline. Ghana were frustrated until skipper Eric Ayiah, linked with the likes of Porto and Manchester City, broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute. Over three first halves, India conceded just two goals.
But things went to hell in the second half with Ghana, knowing they could top the group with a solid win, attacking relentlessly. Ayiah added another in the 53rd minute, while Richard Danso scored with four minutes left. Barely had India recovered from that strike when Emmanuel Toku rustled the net again a minute later, ensuring Ghana topped the group.
The 4-0 scoreline was no exaggeration, for India could have easily conceded a couple more. It was not that there were no positives to take away from the game. That first half alone had many. Dheeraj Singh and Anwar's performances in that session of play were noteworthy, considering they were up against at least a couple of players, who will be playing Champions League football in a few years.
But the familiar failings were there, so familiar that Indian footballers have been making them for the past two decades. Many a time in the match, as has been the case in the entire tournament, an Indian player found himself with the ball and two opponents ahead and chose to dribble past them, instead of finding a teammate. Indeed, whoever wrote the lyrics to the tournament's theme song sums up the Indian mentality perfectly. Dodge, dodge, pass. Only, they often lose the ball the first time they dodge.
There were times when counterattacks failed to materialise because the pass arrived two seconds later, and instances when the shot on goal was so tame, it wouldn't have made it if the goalkeeper was somewhere else. But then these are things that a 15-year-old cannot be taught over two years. These traits should get into his system when he is seven or eight.
But, despite this result, the U-17 World Cup has still been a success for the boys in blue. As the game approached half-time on Thursday, Dheeraj went down injured. A small section of the fans started chanting his name, but it spread. Soon the entire stadium was chanting it. 52,614 people chanting 'Dheeraj, Dheeraj'.
Until that moment, the loudest chant in the stadium was 'Modi, Modi'. Maybe we shouldn't be asking for anything more!