Saturday, Mar 17, 2018 | Last Update : 05:54 PM IST
India charted a two-year preparation plan, embarking on frequent foreign exposure trips.
New Delhi: Ever since India got automatic entry into the Fifa U-17 World Cup as hosts of the tournament, the focus has been as much on their on-field preparations as off it, both of which will face a first major test in their tournament opener against USA here on Friday.
India charted a two-year preparation plan, embarking on frequent foreign exposure trips, playing in Mexico, Russia and parts of Europe to gain experience.
The results in those matches were anything but encouraging, with 12 losses against two wins in the final 12 months in the build-up to the tournament.
The home team’s preparations received a major jolt midway when coach Nicolai Adam exited following physical abuse complaints from players, hurriedly replaced by Luis Norton de Matos. The Portuguese coach has barely had eight months to mould the team.
He admits the task he has undertaken isn’t envious and has gone about his job without fuss, gradually introducing changes, of varied scales, suiting his coaching philosophy, reminding people not to expect ‘magic’ overnight.
Shifting from a physical, long-ball approach to a more possession-based, ball-on-the-ground style has been de Matos’ prime objective.
He has shuffled playing positions of at least 10 players, including striker Aniket Jadhav and midfielders Rahul Kannoly, Abhijit Sarkar, Amarjit Singh and Jeakson Singh, to adjust the team to this methodical switch.
India’s ambitions of a good show became tougher once they were clubbed with formidable opponents USA, Ghana, Colombia in Group A. De Matos’ influence on the team’s overall functioning will be as much in scrutiny as individual performances of the players, who have largely trained away from the spotlight.
USA are considered among the tougher teams in the fray, owing to their consistent performance in age-specific tournament over the years. Finishing fourth in the 1999 edition remains their best accomplishment. The present side includes players like Werder Bremen-bound Josh Sargent, who is poised to sign for the Bundesliga club in the January transfer window. But the spotlight is on Timothy Weah, son of Liberian legend George Weah.
The experienced de Matos, already secured of his future with a contract extension beyond the Cup, will be aware of USA’s might and fright and will be itching to capitalise on it.
Ghana take on Colombia
Twice champions Ghana, battling allegations of age-cheating, take on Colombia in the tournament opener at the Nehru Stadium. The teams promised to be at the top of their ability while acknowledging that any slip-up in the first match will be detrimental to their Round of 16 qualification chances in a tough group.