India's campaign in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup ended when they went down 0-4 to a superior and physical Ghana in their third Group A match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Thursday.
The match was a tale of two halves, India fully dominant for the first 40 minutes, playing all over and overpowering their burly opponents in most of the battles. The intent was evident and Ghana, for most of the half, defended and chased.
Fortunes, however, turned around a minute before the interval after Ghana scored against the run of play.
The goal changed the complexion of the match, as in the second half Ghana took over the reins and initiated attacks at high intensity which had the Indians guessing.
Earlier, with four changes in the starting line-up from the previous match, the Indians kicked-off aggressively. The first corner was earned within 20 seconds and a low shot went straight to rival goalkeeper Danald Ibrahim.
That was followed by quick interchanging of passes in the midfield. The danger of being hit on the counter, however, was always there and the Indians, playing quite a high line for the first 20 minutes, were almost hit in the sixth when Ghana broke through the defence and had the ball in the back of the net only to be ruled off-side.
The early momentum, by then, had already been seized. The Blues were not willing to sit back, wait and defend. When India defended, they outnumbered their opponents and there was always the extra effort to increase numbers while attacking.
There was quick switching, always another to back the other. Most of the time, the Indians were willing to take the opponent on one-on-one, and succeeded. India were clearly the better side in the first 40 minutes.
But Ghana clawed back and succeeded in taking the lead in the 44th minute. Sadiq Ibrahim unleashed a low shot, one of those which every goalkeeper hates, and though Dheeraj was quick to go down and palm it, rival captain Eric Ayaih blasted in the rebound.
Changing over, the reluctance to release the ball gifted Ghana their second goal. Having intercepted a one-two, Sanjeev Stalin sidestepped his marker but the rush of adrenaline tempted him to go solo instead of passing it to his unmarked teammates. He tried to dribble past the entire rival midfield but eventually got caught in a jungle of legs.
The counter then was fast, and the Indian defence had no time to recover -- Aiyah this time digging his left-footer to the left of Dheeraj. It was a goal that could have been avoided.
Head coach Luis Norton de Matos made his first change in the 58th minute, Naorem being replaced by Ninthoiganba.
Ghana, by then, were using the flanks to penetrate. Both the wingers were nippy and chased the ball faster than Boris and Sanjeev, laying it for the strikers in the box. Had Dheeraj not leaped high to intercept a lob in a one-on-one situation, things could have been worse.
If the first 30 minutes belonged to India, Ghana were in full flow by the 60th; and 30 minutes remained.
Matos executed his second change in the 63rd minute -- this time captain Amarjit was replaced by Rahim Ali, and then in the 77th minute Lalengmawia came in for Aniket.
Realising time was running out, India went all out. In the 80st minute Rahul KP did try a shot from a distance but it went straight to Ghana 'keeper Danald, and three minutes later, even as Lalengmawia tried to beat Danald, the latter, despite fumbling on the first occasion, managed to hold on.
Ghana sealed the issue with two goals in two minutes in the 84th and the 85th, sloppy defending letting India down on both occasions.
In the end, it was an embarrassing defeat, the scoreline saying it all!