India showed heart but lacked in skill and quality with a much superior United States of America handing them a sound 3-0 thrashing in the opening encounter of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Friday.
Playing in their maiden FIFA tournament, rank outsiders India were outclassed by a side that was a few notches above the ‘Boys in Blue’ physically as well as technically. Captain and star striker Josh Sargent gave US the lead in the 30th minute through a penalty before Chris Dunkin (51st) got a freak goal and Andrew Carleton (84th) hit on the counter after the change of ends.
But for fine anticipatory skills of goalkeeper Moirangthem Deeraj Singh, who made some impressive saves, India could have conceded even more goals. As predicted by head coach Luis Norton de Matos, US made a wave attacks throughout the match and India were left to defend their citadel for the better part of the game. While the USA got several chances, India had only had a couple of clear look at the goal.
Midfielder Komal Thatal, the best Indian in sight today, wasted a chance in the second half when his lob was off target while Anwar Ali’s rasping shot in the 83rd minute hit the horizontal. The sizeable crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium cheered the home players, who became the first ever national team to play in a FIFA World Cup at any level, but the gulf in the class was clearly evident.
The accuracy in passes, the first touch, positional sense of the US players made it clear that it was always a catching up game for the Indian boys. India were pushed back in their own half most of the time in the face of incessant US attack.The US attacking trio of Sargent, Tim Weah and Ayo Akinola kept the Indian defence on tenterhooks.
India’s Portuguese coach De Matos surprisingly named midfielder Abhijt Sarkar and Rahul Kannoly as right full back in the starting line-up with Aniket Jadhav being the lone man upfront. The ultra-defensive tactic put them under severe pressure as soon as the match started. US captain and striker Sargent, who will sign up with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen next year, found himself alone in the Indian box but his shot rebounded off the Indian custodian’s chest.
Next, a 20th minute corner was punched away by goalkeeper Dheeraj. After a sustained period of US attack, Sargent was body- checked by Jitendra Singh off the ball inside the box and the referee promptly pointed to the dreaded spot at the half-hour mark. Sargent himself stepped up and converted from the spot to the dismay of the crowd. Ningthoinganba Meetei and Komal Thatal had a few good moves from the right and left flanks respectively and those were not threatening enough.
Aniket had a crack at goal late in the first half but it went straight into US goalkeeper’s grasp. India had a golden chance in 49th minute but Thatal’s shot sailed over. Following a clearance by Ningthoinganba, the ball bounced past American defender Chris Durkin and Thatal was hurried into lobbing the ball way over cross piece. In the 70th minute, de Matos made two changes in search of a goal with Nongdam Naorem coming in Ningthoinganba and striker Rahim ali for Abhijit. The move gave some impetus to the Indian attack.
The third goal was a classical counter-attack after US defence got hold off a crossbar rebound off Anwar Ali’s shot. They made a quick counter and the Indian defenders didn’t have the speed to run back in time to defend. Carleton was sent in the clear and the striker with an outside dodge beat Dheeraj before easily slotting the ball home.