As soon as the final whistle was blown, the Colts collapsed to the grounds with tears in their eyes. India were routed 0-4 by Ghana in their final Group A match of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup as they crashed out of the tournament, on Thursday.
The hosts lost all the three matches in the group stage. Not a surprise, as they were not expected to win any of them. What came as a surprise, however, was the attitude of the players in the tournament. Barring the last match, the youngsters fought valiantly in the first two games. And even came close to securing their first point in a football World Cup against Colombia, before a late goal handed the game to the opponents.
Amarjit Singh's troops also earned a lot of plaudits for their resilience, hard work and standing up toe-to-toe against superior opponents. While India made their World Cup debut, the participation was not just about short-term gains. The tournament is expected to set the ball rolling for a better future of football in India.
We take a look at what the nation has gained from its first football World Cup campaign:
FIFA World Cup bow
The last time Indian qualified for the finals of a FIFA tournament was in 1950, but they withdrew as they were not allowed to play barefoot. The next opportunity arrived in 2017, 67 years later!
Along with making their first World Cup appearance, the Asian nation is also hosting a FIFA-organised competition for the first time. India received the opportunity of participating in the showpiece event by the virtue of being the hosts.
India's first World Cup Goal
After hosting their first FIFA event, first World Cup appearance, next in line was their first goal at the showpiece event. The historic moment arrived in the 82nd minute of the match against Colombia, when midfielder Jeakson Singh rose the highest to head home Sanjeev Stalin's corner.
The reaction to the goal was even more historic. Over 48,000 people in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi went berserk as the midfielder etched his name in history.
Anwar Ali came inches closer to score in the first match against the USA. His shot rebounded off the bar, leading to a counter-attack from which the opponents scored in the very next minute. In the second match, India conceded just about a minute after Jeakson scored to draw level at 1-1.
While India fought courageously, their lack of experience was pretty evident in all of the matches. After all, they have rarely played against teams of such high quality. The campaign, however, would have taught them a lot of lessons. And hopefully the next time, the story will be different.
India lost the matches, but the players won the hearts of Indian fans. Their fighting performances helped Dheeraj Singh, Komal Thatal, Jeakson and Anwar become household names in a country which is more than crazy about cricket.
The most impressive thing was that despite a negligible youth football structure and lack of support, the youngsters made their fellow countrymen sit back and take notice of their exploits. The senior national team recently booked their place in the 2019 Asian Cup in Bengaluru, and the tournament has helped to find their successors in Delhi.
Remarkable home support
Before the start of the tournament, one of the most heated debate was over how many people in indifferent Delhi will turn up to watch India play. But now with the conclusion of India's campaign, Delhiites should be mighty proud of the support they rendered to their national team.
You don't need extra motivation to watch your country play in a FIFA tournament, but the buzzing atmosphere in the stadium made it an experience worth remembering. While 46,351 fans attended the inaugural game, over 52,000 were present for the Ghana match.
Free distribution of tickets to schools also helped the organisers' cause, but as they say: seeing is learning. India's debut campaign should inspire more youngsters to take up the sport. It was for nothing that kids kept chanting Jeakson's name even when India were losing to Ghana.