October 6 will forever remain a historic day in Indian football. The National Anthem Jana Gana Mana was heard for the first time in a FIFA World Cup, making the occasion an absolute priceless moment.
Yes, India lost against the United States of America (USA) in Under-17 World Cup last night (October 6) and we were left to ponder upon the foul from Jitendra that could have been prevented the first goal of the match...or the deflection from Anwar Ali that doubled the lead for the away side at the full house Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
The small step that leads to a giant leap
At the end of the day, however, fact remains that the boys playing out there in front of around 50,000 people in the gigantic football stadium in the national capital are teenagers, after all. More importantly, they were experiencing such a ride for the first time in their life.
If there is HOPE, more such occasions will be up for grabs in the future.
Thanks to the popularity of the Indian Super League (ISL) over the years, social media discussions over football have increased in India. And are continuing to be so. The women folk are talking about it as well.
There was no surprise, therefore, that hashtags trended like wildfire on social media on Friday during the match between India and USA and almost everyone was tweeting about the match, which the hosts lost 0-3.
Dheeraj and Komal are overnight stars
The efforts of the India Under-17 football team goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, deservedly, remained the talking point among the twitterati.
It was a bitter-sweet experience for me. I always dreamt of playing in a FIFA World Cup and when my named was called, shivers ran down my spine and I was so excited to finally know what it feels like.
At the same time, the loss was a bitter experience. Every match that I have played I have wanted to win and it is hard to digest that we lost against USA.
We also got to know how easily and how quickly the game can change in high level International matches.
- Dheeraj Moirangthem
Sikkim's Komal Thatal also stole attention and found a place in everyone's hearts, thanks to the momentous displays of his bursting pace at certain moments and also the subtle dribbling skills, that helped the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, find a place among billions of hearts.
An Indian winger doing the same in front of his home crowd. What else can you ask for.
Not to forget Komal's unique mohawk hairstyle, bleached in golden yellow, that left the young ladies in attendance giggling and developing a crush on him.
USA, pressure, expectations...the oppponents were many
Of course, the Indian team was under a lot of pressure in the match and that was visible. Coach Luis Norton de Matos shouted at the top of his lungs from the sidelines to boost his boys, asking them to follow the tactics precisely.
The passes were going wayward, the final balls were looking embarrassing and childish fouls were being committed. Amarjit Singh and his teammates were feeling the pressure of a huge stadium closing down on them and the expectations of around 50,000 supporters in the crowd, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to scouts from notable European football clubs.
Remember, unlike other teams, and that includes USA, none of these Indian players have ever played in such a big football stadium and that too, in front of a full house.
All of us are aware of the football infrastructure in countries like the United States or any other European or South American nation. The difference in training at the Chandigarh football academy and training at a football academy in the United States, is comparable to heaven and hell.
Hope..hope...and more HOPE
India Under-17 football team have two more deadly opponents coming up. On Monday (October 9), they take on Colombia, a giant of a South American football nation and on Wednesday, Norton de Matos' side clashes swords with Ghana, an African country that has produced a player like Michael Essien in the past.
The physical attributes, needless to say, will be a much higher. We won't be surprised if the likes of Komal and Amarjit are dwarfed in comparison to the Ghana players.
Still we can find immense hope for the future.
If the "Boys in Blue" are getting their first big exposure in career from the FIFA World Cup, the sky remains the limit. The experience from the first match will be carried forward to the next two and the adaptability of playing at New Delhi's JLN Stadium, in front of such a full house, will slowly soak in.
Football academies from the around the world will come calling for them. Over the years, these players will age, mature and hit their peak. If the Indian government eases the rules for PIOs (Person of Indian Origin) like they did for this tournament, more promise awaits for the future of Indian football.
Until then, let us just sit back and enjoy these lads bring out their best against the biggest of pressures. They are set to win much bigger things in years to come!