New Delhi: Their transformation from rank outsiders to valiant fighters drawing all-round praise, India face another test of character against former champions Ghana in their final group A game of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
Not many had given India any chance against Colombia after their 0-3 loss to the United States in their opening match but the home side put up an inspired performance, showing that the country can compete against the best in the world. Coach Luis Norton de Matos defensive gameplan was executed to near perfection by his players against Colombia and the tournament debutants would have eked out a win had a bit of luck gone their way.
Colombia largely dominated the match but as de Matos later asserted, the outcome of that game could have been different had India taken the lead in the first half. It could have happened if Rahul Kannolys fi rsthalf stoppage time volley had not hit the post.
With the expectations now rising, de Matos and his boys would be aiming to show that the performance against Colombia was no fluke and they were worthy competitors in this global showpiece, where they were automatic qualifi ers as hosts. But it will not be easy for them as Ghana are the most physical side in the group.
No doubt, the two-time former champions Ghana will start as clear favourites in final Group A match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. India are also likely to miss the services of captain Amarjit Singh and central defender Anwar Ali, who has been praised for his excellent show both against USA and Colombia, due to injury.
Even a win for India, which is unlikely though not improbable, is not expected to take them to the knock-out stage as the USA have already booked a round of 16 berth while Colombia and Ghana are on three points each. Without any point so far, India have conceded five goalsand scored once to have a goal difference which will decide the group rankings if two or more teams have equal points of minus four, the least among the four teams in the group.
With a nearly non-existent youth development system in the country and hence a small pool of talented youngsters, deMatos built a team in seven months after he took charge inMarch. And, from the beginning, he has been rightly saying that India have a small chance of winning each of the three group matches.
Understandably, he had to devise a defensive gameplan and banking on counter-attacks through quick transition too offensive mode. De Matos knows that it is easier said than done with his player lacking in competition experience. He is happy with the game plan but has said that the site needs a lot of improvement in the transitional and attacking aspects.
Maintaining the shape in a well organized formation has been pivotal to his tactics. Playing mostly in 4-4- 1-1 formation, the Indian team maintained its shape very well throughout the match against Colombia and the little gap between the two defensive lines of back four and midfi eld four did not give much space to the rival attackers. De Matos is likely to continue with the same strategy against Ghana.
If India can go to the breather goal-less just like they did against the Colombians, it will be interesting to see whether he will think of opening up the game and press for goals.