New Delhi: A historic first World Cup goal did little to blunt the disappointment of losing to Colombia as India Under-17 football coach Luis Norton de Matos rued the chances missed by his sprightly team.
India scored their first ever goal in a FIFA World Cup but lost 1-2 in their second Group A encounter of the ongoing Under-17 showpiece in New Delhi on Monday night. “Yes, we could have won the match. We had two chances in the first half. In one of them, we hit the goalpost. It is a pity. Had we scored first in the first half, we could have had a big chance to win the game. At least it could have been a draw," De Matos said at the post match press conference.
Not many gave India a chance but a win did not look improbable for them despite the fact that the Colombians had better possession and ended up with more shots on goal. The South Americans eventually emerged victors with Juan Penaloza scoring twice in the 49th and 83rd minutes to silence a sizeable turnout at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium.
This after defensive midfielder Jeakson Thounaojam had neutralised Colombia’s lead by scoring the country’s first-ever World Cup goal in the 82nd minute. De Matos said India could have been ahead in the first half—which ended goalless—and the match could have been either a draw or a win for the home side from thereon.
Late in the first half, Rahul Kannoly’s left-footed volley hit the goalpost and de Matos said that was a crucial miss. “In the first match against USA also (which India lost 0 -3), the ball hit the post and on the counter they (USA) scored. That match would been 2-1 (in favour of USA) and in today’s match the result would have been different," he added.
The Portuguese tactician, who looked a relieved man after India’s performance, said it was the inexperience of the players that led to the second goal within a minute of the home side restoring parity. “Because of the happiness of the players (after scoring the equaliser) the players lost a bit of concentration and Colombia scored within a minute. It was like a dream and the players lost concentration. The players have not experienced this kind of situation earlier.
“Had the players settled down for three or four minutes, we would not have conceded the goal and it could have been a draw at least. It is a pity, the match could have ended 1-1. We lost in a matter of a minute due to loss of concentration," the India coach rued.
Despite the loss, De Matos was all praise of his players, saying the hosts have shown that they can compete against the best on the biggest stage of all. “The performance of the players was fantastic. I am very proud of these Indian players. They have showed that India can compete against the best in the world. They have a fantastic future," said De Matos, who has been in charge of this side for just around seven months.
“We had dreamed six months ago that we can compete against these strong teams from South America. All the teams found it difficult to play against us. USA said that and the Colombian coach said the same. We need to be consistent with the last pass and in the transition from defence to offence."
Asked what’s the strongest aspect of the Indian team, he said, “We are very strong in our organisation. We have a lot of concentration and it is difficult to score goals against us. We have worked a lot on corners and set pieces. But the most difficult thing in football is the offensive process and we need time to work on this. We had good action and good chances to score (against Colombia) and we need to keep working on this."
De Matos was effusive in his praise for goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem and gave the credit to both the player and goalkeeping coach Paulo Grilo. “He (Dheeraj) is a part of the team and he has learnt lessons from defeats. In our Mexico trip, we played Mexico, Chile and Colombia. We conceded nine goals of which seven were from set-pieces. We needed a top goalkeeping coach and I brought a top coach for the last month of preparation.
“The work he achieved with the three goalkeepers was incredible. Goalkeeping is a very technical matter and this is not my area of expertise even if I am the head coach. Of course, the quality of the player is also important but the position-specific training has helped. Paulo has done a fantastic job."
Paulo Grilo is a Portuguese, who has worked in top clubs of his native country, in Bulgaria and in Major League Soccer of the US.