India will kick start their biggest footballing experience on Friday as they face USA in the first group stage game.
 FIFA U-17 World Cup Live, India vs USA

India will kick start their biggest footballing experience on Friday as they face USA in the first group stage game at the Jawaharlal Stadium in New Delhi. India have never participated in a World Cup before. The fact that India are debuting in the FIFA U-17 World Cup is remarkable in itself.

India have been drawn in Group A alongside USA, Ghana and Colombia. The hosts would have been the weakest team in any odd group and Indian U-17 head coach Luis Norton de Matos knows that. Even though India qualify automatically as hosts, the All India Football Federation have invested more than Rs 15 crores on the team, sending them to four continents, 18 countries to play more than 100 matches in the last three years.

No Indian team before has travelled so much or played these many matches before a tournament. However, it would take more than all that, and home advantage, to win Friday’s match against USA – some of whose players are part of Major League Soccer (MLS) youth teams and shaping up to play in top European clubs as well.

De Matos has prepared his side on strong defence and not to concede goals against USA, who finished second in 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in April. His strategy would be to rely on smooth and swift transitions from defence to offence and hit on the counter-attacks.

 “It is difficult to build a strong team in seven months but we have done what we can in this short time. There is a gap between India and the other teams, say from Europe and South America,” said De Matos. “So, I don’t think much about the results and chances but I know my players will give their best. That is what they can do.”

USA head coach John Hackworth said, “We’ve played India once before, we were successful against them. But it wasn’t in the opening game of the World Cup, it wasn’t them hosting a World Cup. My feeling is that, and from the information I’ve heard, there’s going to be a very loud crowd. They (India) are incredibly athletic and hard-working team. We are going to have to beat the host country in the opening game and that is a difficult challenge.”

India might be over optimistic on being the better team on Friday, but the match will not be about the results for either the spectators or the team but about those 90 minutes of play in a World Cup, a feeling never experienced by the country.

Key Players for India: Striker Aniket Jadhav and winger Komal Thatal will be highly relied upon for Friday’s game, along with right-back Boris Singh Thangjam and skipper Amarjit Singh Kiyam, with Suresh Singh Wangjam providing the backbone.

Key player for USA: Timothy Weah, who plays for PSG and Josh Sargent, who is set to join German club Werder Bremen, are the key players for USA.


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