21 Indian players will soon etch their names in history books when they participate in the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Being the hosts, the sub-continent nation automatically qualified for the tournament. Indian not only will be hosting a FIFA tournament for the first time, it will also be the first occasion when they will compete in such a high-profile competition.
The Indian team is heavily dominated by players from Manipur. 8 of the 21 players belong to the north-eastern state, while others hail from West Bengal, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Sikkim and Mizoram. Two NRIs have also been included in the team for the first time.
To bolster India’s preparation for the showpiece event, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had arranged an extensive overseas tour, which included matches against Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Macedonia, Serbia and Benfica among other teams.
All eyes will turn towards India once the World Cup kicks off and here are five Indian players who can catch attention of the world with their performances.
1. Dheeraj Singh, goalkeeper
A fan of Arsenal’s Petr Cech, the towering goalkeeper has made the place between the posts his own with his commanding presence in the box. The 17-year-old who hails from Moirang in Manipur has been Team India’s trusted choice as he has played the most number of games ahead of the other goalies.
Dheeraj has been part of the national set-up since 2013 and his experience of playing against international teams should come in handy at the showpiece event. The goalkeeper is expected to be the busiest of all during the Indian campaign. A confident shot-stopper, Dheeraj has also earned a name for saving penalties. He saved two penalties in the 2016 AFC U-16 championships.
2. Sanjeev Stalin, defender
The Bengaluru-born defender is a product of the famous Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA). It was his impressive performance for the CFA against AIFF Academy that got him inducted into the U-17 reserves.
India’s dead-ball specialist, Sanjeev caught the attention of Indian football fans after he scored a curling free kick against UAE in the AFC U-16 championships last year.
Sanjeev is also seen as a leader in the team and was one of the top four picks for the role of skipper in an internal poll conducted by coach Luis Nortan de Matos.
3. Amarjit Singh Kiyam, midfielder
The midfielder from Manipur topped coach De Matos’ internal poll to become the skipper of the Indian unit. Come October 6, the 16-year-old will become the first Indian skipper to lead an Indian team in a football World Cup.
The poll is a proof of Amarjit’s popularity in the team, especially considering that he was stripped of the captaincy by former coach Nicolai Adam for his quiet nature. A product of CFA, Amarjit is considered the driving force behind the team.
The midfielder also comes from a humble background, his father works as a farmer and his mother sells fish to support the family.
4. Komal Thatal, midfielder
Fast, flamboyance, flair are the words that best describe Sikkimese Komal. The creative hope of the Indian team, Komal’s abilities are not just restricted to unlocking the opposition’s defence. Komal can score a one or two screamer himself, an example of which he gave against Brazil in the BRICS U-17 Tournament in Goa last year.
A product of Namchi Football Academy, the playmaker has caught the attention of Indian football fans and the upcoming World Cup will be an opportunity to make a mark on the map of world football.
5. Aniket Jadhav, striker
The Kolhapur lad will have to bear much of the responsibility to find the back of the net for India at the World Cup. Aniket started his career as a winger but later converted into a forward, thanks to his ability to beat players.
He was spotted by the team management during a trial in Mumbai in 2015 and since then the Maharashtra footballer has been a regular part of India’s U-17 set-up. He was also among the 10 Indians selected by Germany legend Paul Breitner to represent India the FC Bayern Youth Cup in 2014.
The World Cup will be held across 6 cities from October 6. India have been drawn in Group A alongside USA, Colombia and Ghana. The hosts face USA on October 6, followed by Colombia and Ghana on October 9 and October 12 respectively at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
The World Cup will be broadcast live on Sony Ten 2, Sony Ten 3 and Sony ESPN.
Feature image: AIFF