NEW DELHI: Google Josh Sargent and you’ll find a tonne of stuff. You’ll read stories on how he has agreed on a transfer to Werder Bremen, on how he might be the next Christian Pulisic, the American youngster currently taking the Bundesliga by storm.
You’ll read stories on how he played the U-20 World Cup for the Americans despite being only seventeen. You’ll be redirected to countless videos of his exploits.
Google Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem and you’ll find plenty of stuff too. You will find how he traded his badminton racquets for football gloves and how the region he comes from crafts footballers out of nothingness. Yet, in the 30th minute of India’s U-17 World Cup opener, both kids stood facing each other, Dheeraj the only thing between Sargent and the goal.
That was the match in a snapshot. Forget Nicolai Adam and Luis Norton de Matos. You cannot make a World Cup team in two years. You need at least a decade more. The final score was 3-0. Sargent successfully converting that 30th-minute penalty before Chris Durkin capitalised off some poor Indian defending in the 51st minute. Andrew Carleton capped off a blistering counter-attack with six minutes left, seconds after India’s best moment of the match — Anwar Ali hitting the bar at the other end.
It wasn’t the right kind of 3-0 either. De Matos, after the game, was suggesting that had Anwar’s effort gone, or had Komal Thatal put away a reasonable chance in the 56th minute, the game would have been lot different. ‘A punishment for the team’ is how he chose to describe the result.
“At 2-1, they would have tried to keep the result,” he reasoned. But it could so easily have been 5-0.
Right from the opening whistle, it looked like boys against men. At times, especially in the opening exchanges when the boys in blue saw little of the ball, it looked like India had accidentally wandered into the U-20 World Cup. The likes of Sargent and Tim Weah were much bigger and just as better. It’s not for nothing they find themselves at Werder Bremen and Paris St Germain.
It’s hard to fault the Indian s though, for they made the best of what they had. It was always going to be an impossible task. And at least some of them acquitted themselves pretty well. Dheeraj pulled off a number of saves and was described as ‘exceptional’ by US coach John Hackworth. The central defensive pairing of Anwar Ali and Jitendra Singh frustrated the three-pronged US attack, notwithstanding the silly penalty that the latter gave away.
And Komal Thatal, linked by some over-enthusiastic sections of the Indian media to Manchester United, showed that while he may not sign for them ever, he certainly had the talent to develop into a very good player.
“There is a big gap between our team and the other teams of the group,” De Matos said. “But we proved that we have organisation and discipline. Until halftime, it was possible to keep the result. In the second half, we conceded another goal that had a connection to the experience of the team. The players proved that with some more experience, they can play more equally with teams of this league.”
Only the naive would construe De Matos’ words to mean that with two more years of experience, these players would be good enough to hold USA in the U-20 World Cup.
‘Some more experience’ he is talking about, should have come two years before they started going on exposure tour when they were playing with tennis balls on grassless pitches. But are the AIFF listening?
Tale of the forgotten Ganguly
A minor gaffe occurred during the function in which former Indian captains were felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While announcing the list of names, one was skipped. Consequently, Magan Singh, captain at the 1974 Asian games, stepped in when the 1982 captain Bhaskar Ganguly’s name was called, following a pre-rehearsed chronologicsl order. The LOC eventually got Modi to felicitate Ganguly just when he was leaving and send the latter back with an apology.
Turkey’s Ahmed Kutucu scored the first goal of the U-17 World Cup, in the game against New Zealand in Navi Mumbai.
The USA had 8 of their 20 attempts on target. In comparison, India managed just 1 on target in 8 attempts.
One of the pre-tournament favourites, Mali suffered a 2-3 defeat against Paraguary in Group B, at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.