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, here tomorrow. 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 Kannoly’s first-half 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 qualifiers 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 tomorrows final Group A match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. India are also likely to miss the services of captainAmarjit 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 decidethe 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 inthe 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 midfield four did not give much space to the rival attackers. De Matos is likely to continue with the same strategy against Ghana tomorrow. 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. Goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh has been one of the two best performers for India and he is likely to continue at that position.
In Anwar’s absence, Namit Deshpande, who started against Colombia, may pair with Jitendra Singh as central defenders. Jitendra played against the USA but was replaced byNamit against Colombia. Boris Singh and Sanjeev Stalin are expected to be in the the starting line-up as right and left full-backs respectively.Boris, who returned to the side after missing out against the USA, did a good job against Colombia and he was the supplier of the Rahul Konnoly volley that thudded the goalpost. Stalin was the one who took the corner kick from whichJeakson Singh scored India’s first World Cup goal. De Matos has a lot of options in the midfield as he has packed the squad with players who can play in these positions.Defensive midfielder Jeakson is expected to continue in the first eleven as his six feet two inches frame will be needed against a physically superior Ghanaians.
Ghana, who beat Colombia but lost to the USA, would be looking for a win to be assured of an automatic round of 16slot as that will ensure them a top-two finish in the group. The Teams (From): India: Dheeraj Singh, Prabhsukhan Gill, Sunny Dhaliwal,Boris Singh, Jitendra Singh, Anwar Ali, Sanjeev Stalin, HendryAntonay, Namit Deshpande, Suresh Singh, Ninthoinganba Meetei,Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Abhijit Sarkar, Komal Thatal,Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul KannolyPraveen, Md. Shahjahan, Rahim Ali, Aniket Jadhav. Ghana: Ibrahim Danlad, Michael Acquaye, Kwame Aziz,Najeeb Yakubu, Gideon Mensah, Bismark Terry Owusu, EdmundArko-Mensah, Abdul Razak Yusif, Gideon Acquah, RashidAlhassan, John Out, Isaac Gyamfi, Gabriel Leveh, IbrahimSulley, Mohammed Kudus, Emmanuel Toku, Mohammed Iddriss, EricAyiah, Richard Danso, Mohammed Aminu, Ibrahim Sadiq. Match Starts at 8pm.