D-day has arrived for the FIFA U-17 Indian team as they are all set to play their inaugural match against USA, a first for India to be featured in a FIFA World Cup. The matches will take place across six cities in the country. The tournament will start in New Delhi and Navi Mumbai. The quarterfinals will be n Goa, Guhwati, Kochi and Kolkata. Guhwaiti and Mumbai will host the semi-finals and the finals will take place at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium.
As the team gears up to take on the best in football under the guidance of Coach Luís Norton de Matos, here is the squad that will represent India in the biggest honour for youth football.
When he was in school, Dheeraj took a fancy towards badminton. He used to play badminton in school since there were too many students and the football ground was always crowded. He received his big football break when he played for Bisnupur district, where his hometown Moirang is located, in a state level football tournament and got selected for the Manipur junior team and was subsequently inducted into the AIFF Elite Academy.
Gill was born in Ludhiana, Punjab, and is U-17 India’s goalkeeper. He has represented the U-16 team in 2016, and idolizes Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Gianluigi Buffon. He is also a fan of Real Madrid and Bengaluru FC.
The Canadian was inducted into the Indian U-17 squad after obtaining an Indian passport. The 6ft. 5-inch goalkeeper has formerly played for young teams of MLS side Toronto FC. He was one of the players who attended the trials in Goa earlier this year.
Aniket burst onto the football scene as a 14-year-old and went to represent India in the FC Bayern Munich Youth Cup in 2014. He has been a part of the AIFF setup ever since, and has triumphed at all levels, establishing himself as Coach Matos’ trusted man leading the Indian attack.
He picked up his skills from his brother Anwar. Rahim hails from Ichapore, a small village in Barrackpore, had a humble upbringing and is an avid Cristiano Ronaldo fan. He joined the Mohun Bagan youth team in 2013, and played in the Nursery League for a year in 2014-15. It was when he represented West Bengal at the Coco-Cola Under-15 Cup that his potential was recognised by an AIFF scout, after which Rahim was invited to attend trials for the national team in Goa.
Imphal-raised Suresh represented Manipur in national Under-14 Championships in 2011 and was later called for a trial in Goa by the national selectors who were looking for talent for the U-17 World Cup. It was a rocky road for him to convince his father to allow him to pursue his passion, as his father was a badminton player and wanted Suresh to follow the same path. He even competed in a badminton tournament but his heart lay with football.
Sikkim-born Komal is the chief playmaker of this Indian side. The blonde-streaked has proved his credentials by scoring a goal each against the mighty Brazil and Uruguay, the only one to do so amongst the current crop.
Amarjit Singh Kiyam
Skipper Amarjit has been a calming influence, anchoring his team from the midfield. Leadership comes easily to the Manipuri-born captain, who had to leave home at a tender age when he enrolled into the Chandigarh Football Academy in Punjab.
Ninthoi went through a rough patch with his father’s passing, but honoured his father’s legacy by living up to his promise, and made the Indian team. He has even been awarded the prestigious No.10 jersey in the Indian team.
He is the son of a butcher and was raised in a family of five. His football aspirations were given full support by his family and his passion led him to represent India in the biggest honour for the U-17 category. Lalengmawia is a primarily central midfielder but he can also double as an attacking midfielder.
After a stroke forced his father to give up his job with the police, his mother took to selling vegetables at the local market, for the family’s daily bread and butter. He has been dreaming of playing for the Indian team since childhood. He was rejected by the national selectors in 2015 when he was with the Chandigarh Football Academy. But that did not deter him and he went on to join Minerva and led them to the U-15 and U-16 national titles. He was subsequently invited for the trials in Goa.
Kolkata-bred Abhijit Sarkar is a fan of India Super League side ATK and is a follower of Spanish giants Real Madrid. He has an impressive performance record and has been touring India for two years.
Rahul Kannoly Praveen
Rahul is a self-trained footballer who took to the sport by participating in various tournaments in and around his hometown Thrissur. When his school did not have a team of its own, he played in paddy fields and open grounds with his friends and neighbours. A coaching camp organized by Thrissur District Football Association led to his participation in the U-14 State Football Championship, and he subsequently earned a spot on the Kerala State Junior team.
Another Manipur-bred player, Shahjahan managed to convince his father of his passion so much so that his father bought him his first pair of football kicks. His elder brother even enrolled him at a grassroots academy called Youth Organisation Sporting Club. At Academy level, he won the best player award in U-13 and U-14 competitions, and made it to the district and state levels in no time. After he was dropped from AIFF Elite Academy in 2015, he considered giving up football but regained his passion after being selected for the Minerva Punjab FC.
Sanjeev is a full-back by trade but hardly seems one given his deep involvement in the game across the whole pitch. A dead-ball specialist, the Bengaluru-born’s weak foot is as strong as his preferred one and can rattle oppositions in set-pieces.
Anwar joined the squad in April 2017 after he caught Matos’ eye when his Minerva Academy beat the national team 1-0 in March. An assured presence at the back, Anwar was first called during former coach Adam’s tenure but failed to make the cut initially.
Boris’ talent was recognized by his father, who caught him in action when he stopped by while passing through a field in Imphal, to watch his son play the sport. As a child, he made do with a tennis ball for his football practice. He knew his heart belonged to football after he won a trophy at a district level. He will be missing out on the inaugural match against the USA after being handed a red card against Iran in the AFC U-16 Championship.
Inspired (and motivated) by his football-playing elder brother, Jitendra choose a career in the sport when he was at crossroads between cricket and football. His hard work and determination earned him a spot on the India U-17 team. He is now an inspiration to his younger brother, who is slowly picking up the sport. Talk about a football family!
The Karnataka native started his journey with Ozone FC by spending two years at the club. It was here that he got his first taste of attending a national camp for the Under-14 squad. Thereafter, he joined Bengaluru FC for a season. The full-back then moved to Pune FC where he played U-15 I-League. At an I-League U-15 match, he was spotted by an AIFF scout and was called for trials for the U-17 team in Mumbai.
When he moved to the United States with his parents at age 8, the language barrier was certainly tough on him. Being the son of a National-level tennis player, his mom tried to gauge him in the sport, but he was never interested. He then started playing football which he says was “the only way into the environment”. After having earned a few friends in the community, he became a part of the Bethseda Soccer Club at the age of 10. He then moved on to Contenintal FC and played in the U-15 and U-16 age groups. He however, had his heart set on playing for India, and after sending in videos to the AIFF, he was called for a trial to Brazil and was selected immediately.