India set to make debut against US team today
New Delhi: Football minnows India stand on the cusp of history as the hosts are set to make their debut in a FIFA event against a formidable USA in a group match of the U-17 World Cup, which begins on Friday.
India qualified automatically for the event as hosts.
They have prepared well with All India Football Federation sending the players for training tours in Europe and a tournament in Mexico but the home side are clear underdogs.
Man to man, USA are clearly the better team in the Group A match at the refurbished Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Most of the American players ply their trade in Major League Soccer youth teams and a couple of them are set to play in top European clubs as well.
India would enjoy the home advantage and captain Amarjit Singh and his team-mates have promised to be competitive at the showpiece event. The feat of playing in India's first-ever FIFA tournament should spur them to bring out their best and deliver something worthy of a host country. They will also be the first Indian players to feature in any World Cup.
More than that, odds are heavily against India as the players lacked competitive matches. Besides, they didn't attend any professional academies unlike their American counterparts. The Indian team was assembled in just seven months by head coach Luis Norton de Matos who took over in March after the sacking off German Nicolai Adam.
Adam, who was made India U-17 coach in February 2015, built a team by scouting talent from across the country through trials and tournaments but got the boot early this year after a reign of two years for allegedly abusing players.
Portuguese de Matos made several changes in the team, bringing in at least half a dozen players in key positions.
The two teams are more or less unknown quantities to each other. A pragmatic de Matos has, however, warned against any miracles from his boys, conceding that there is a big gap between his boys and the other teams.
He has no illusions in the difference in quality between European and American players who have spent at least six- seven years in a professional academy. De Matos has indicated India cannot play an open game and his focus would be on strong defence and not to concede goals. His strategy would be to rely on smooth and swift transitions from defence to offence and hit on the counter-attacks.
He is expected to start Moirangthem Dheeraj Singh at the goal while two regular center backs Anwar Ali and Jitendra Singh are certainties.
Sanjeev Stalin should start as left full back while Hendry Antonay is expected to man the right back's position in place of Boris Singh, who cannot play on Friday after picking a red card against Iran in AFC U-16 Championship last year.