The wait is over and behind us!
For long, Indian football fans had desired for their country to participate in a football World Cup. And the moment finally arrived on October 6, when Manipur's Amarjit Singh Kiyam led his team out on the pitch against USA in the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. Over 40,000 football fans had flocked to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi to witness history in making. The team was welcomed with a deafening roar and the moment when they all sang the national anthem together for the first time in a FIFA event will give you goosebumps for years to come.
India lost the match 0-3 against a much stronger USA, but they left the pitch with their head held high. The gulf in class between the two teams was well known. While India made its FIFA-organised event debut, the Americans are one of the favourites to win the showpiece event.
Along with absorbing the pressure of opponents' attacks, Indians impressed with skills and created numerous chances. The scoreline wasn't the true reflection of how the boys played on the night.
The colts showed they belong
In football, it can't get bigger than playing in a World Cup.
Even the best find it difficult to hold their nerves, let alone when you have expectations of the whole country on your shoulders. The anxiousness was palpable and it led to a lack of composure in the initial period. In addition to that, the Americans possessed a technical and physical edge over India. At first glance, it looked like a match between USA U-19 vs India U-17
But things got better with time.
The Indians executed the strategy to defend deep and attack the opposition on counter to near perfection. The back-line valiantly absorbed the pressure throughout the game, making it difficult for American forwards. The goals came through a penalty, deflected-shot and counter-attack.
The colts also showed a lot of promise going forward. Komal Thatal was a constant nuisance for the American defence. In the 83rd minute, India almost opened their scoreline with Anwar Ali's strike bouncing off the post.
The boys fought bravely throughout the 90 minutes, putting their body on the line. With two more group matches to go, the youngsters have shown that they are here to compete.
Komal Thatal stole the show
The Sikkimese was India's standout player on the glittering night and that had nothing to do with his golden hair. Komal's trickery on the ball and ability to beat defenders made the country to stand up and take notice of the diminutive winger.
Extremely quick on his feet, Komal was usually the focal point of most of India's attacks. The winger also had a golden opportunity to score India's first goal when he misconnected a lob in the second half.
People in stands had different opinions on how India should be playing, but they all concurred on one thing. Every time India won the ball, the fans shouted "Komal ko ball do".
Stadium experience can be improved
The U-17 World Cup is an opportunity for India to enhance their reputation as a host and earn rights to organise more big-ticket events in future. All six venues - New Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Kochi, Goa, Kolkata and Guwahati - have witnessed considerable revamp for the showpiece event. Pitches have been relaid to match international standards.
While things looked perfect on the pitch, not everything was okay for the people in the stands in New Delhi. Over 20,000 tickets were distributed among school children to ensure a buzzing atmosphere for India's first match. However, for many it was a painful ordeal as the stadium lacked basic needs like drinking water. Many kids were seen fighting for water bottles.
FIFA U17 organisers better wake up.This is the amount of garbage that we saw before the kick-off.Keep multiple garbage-cans pls. pic.twitter.com/p81EENGre1— Vipul (@Sporty_Baba) October 7, 2017
Lack of proper waste management converted the pathways leading to the stands into mini dump yards. While overall it was satisfactory outing for most of the spectators, the experience could have been better.
The most heartening thing was to see thousands of fans in a football stadium to watch India's U-17 team. It was surreal. The result of the match was the least important thing on the night, it was a football revolution of sorts.