USA coach John Hackworth has acknowledged his team's favourite tag but believes hosts India will work hard in front of their home crowd in their opening match of FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Friday, October 6.
A sea of crowd is expected to cheer Amarjit Singh Kiyam and his boys, who will make history as India's first representatives at a FIFA World Cup (any age group) when they take on USA in their first Group A encounter. The Boys in Blue have been drawn in the tough group, which also has Colombia and Ghana.
The 21-member side, coached by Portuguese tactician Luis Norton de Matos, has received unprecedented support from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and has been on quite a few exposure trips in the last 12 months. It all started when the former SL Benfica B coach arranged for friendlies in Portugal in April-May. Amarjit's side even clinched an impressive draw against the Benfica U-17 team.
India also defeated an Italy U-17 XI, consisting of youth players from third and fourth division football, 2-0 before clinching positive results in the Lazio Cup. The boys also recently took part in a four-nation tournament in Mexico where they lost to Mexico and Colombia, but held Chile U1-7 to an impressive 1-1 draw.
"India are a very hardworking team and the home conditions coupled with the massive home support is bound to help them up their game on the day. We go into the game as favourites, but we know that India are a good team who will work hard all through the game," Hackworth, whose side defeated India U-17 4-0 last year, said on the eve of India U-17 opener.
"India's forward line has some exciting talent and unless we can contain them it will be difficult for us to eke out a result in our favour," he added.
'Huge moment for India'
De Matos, on the other hand, played down expectations, saying the upcoming tournament is just the first step towards the future for Indian football. While the USA coach has hailed India's attacking prowess, the 63-year-old says his focus will be on imparting defensive discipline.
India though will miss right back Boris Singh, who is serving a suspension. The onus will now be on the likes of Sanjeev Stalin and Anwar Ali to do the job from the back for the colts.
"We create chances, but unlike more established teams we take more chances to find the back of the net. The process starts at the back and it will be very crucial to defend well. Everyone will have to defend, because that is the way to get a result," De Matos said.
"USA are a very strong team in comparison to the Indian team. They have very potent attack, but we will work hard and try to make a game of it and make India proud. We have made our sacrifices and worked hard to reach this place, and now the time has come for us to go and give it our best shot," he added.