Midfielder Suresh Wangjam hopes India learn from 'small' mistakes
With less than 24 hours having elapsed since they made their debut at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, the Indian football team had a mild training session on a practice pitch at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday evening. To go along with their sore bodies, the brutal lesson they had received on their introduction to world level competition would also have been fresh on their minds, even as they prepared for their second match against Colombia on Monday.
India had played many friendlies but few competitive matches leading up to the World Cup, and it showed. In the 84th minute of the match against USA, had Anwar Ali's rocket been just a few inches lower, India might have got their first ever World Cup goal. As it turned out, the ball slammed against the crossbar, was retrieved by an American defender, and turned forward in a counterattack that caught the Indians flat-footed and saw them fall to 0-3.
It was painful learning admitted midfielder Suresh Wangjam. "Before the World Cup, when we played against a smaller team or a weak team, they wouldn't punish us. But yesterday when we didn't score a goal, they (USA) countered and we conceded a goal. That is the point. We must be focused and we can't make a small mistake also. This is what we have learned," he said.
There were other errors too. "Our final pass was not good. If we made our final pass better we could have scored. We had about three or four chances of scoring and we missed it. If we focus on that, we will be much better in the future," he said. He has lessons for himself, too. "I have to give more good passes to the striker. We (midfield) have to give them the ball."
According to Wangjam, it was the little things that cost India. The overall strategy that saw the side pack the defense in their own half for much of the contest was a sound one. "Our plan was to defend in our own half and go for the counterattack. Our mindset was to lead or keep it 0-0 at half-time. But we conceded a penalty in the end. The penalty was the turning point," he says.
Despite the loss, Wangjam has plenty of positive memories of the match. "We were not nervous about playing in the World Cup. Rather we were excited. Even Sunil Chhetri said he envied us and that he would give up 15 years of his career to play a World Cup. Being 17 years old, it was our first time playing in front of 45000 people. It was a fantastic moment. It was our first World Cup match and it was history to be playing in India," he said.