US attack versus Indian defence?
‘We will prepare well for this small percentage and try to make these small possibilities count’
Rank-outsiders India may have a ‘small percentage’ of winning their tournament opener in the FIFA U-17 World Cup against what he expects to be an attacking USA team, coach Luis Norton de Matos said on Thursday.
"USA and for that matter Ghana and Colombia in our group are big sides, top level teams. We know we have a small percentage of winning against the US but you never know what will happen in a game of football," de Matos told reporters at match-eve press conference in New Delhi.
"We will prepare well for this small percentage and try to make these small possibilities count. We want to fight as a team and with help from the 12th man (the home supporters) we hope we can compete against them," he added.
Portuguese de Matos said India, making their debut in the FIFA U-17 showpiece event, would look to be a strong defensive unit and hit on counter attacks through quick transitions from defence to offense.
"I would like to have an effective defence as the US are very strong in attack. They have the No. 9 (Josh Sargent) and Timothy (Weah) and Andrew Carleton, they are very good attackers. They are a physical side also and they worked very hard. So, it will be a tough job for us," the India coach, who took over in March this year said.
"My players know how to play against the US. We have seen video footages of how they play. We will try to make a game and match them on the field tomorrow," he added.
Sargent is one of the most talked about young talents in the US. He was part of the US team that reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea this year. He is set to join the Bundesliga (German League) side Werder Bremen next year when he turns 18.
Weah is the son of former World Player of the Year and Liberian legend George Weah and he has recently been signed by Paris Saint-Germain.
"My players know the importance of good defence. If you have a good defence you can win matches. If you don't have good defence you will concede goals and lose matches. Offense is important but we have to build on good defence," he said.
Captain Amarjit Singh said that he and his team-mates will give more than 100 per cent on Friday.
"It's a World Cup match, we've been dreaming to represent the country in a World Cup. Nobody knows when this chance will come to an Indian player. We want to do something for the country and make India proud," said the 16-year-old Manipuri.
"We made sacrifices, we did not meet our parents for a long time for this World Cup. So, we will not let this chance go away. Sixty thousand people will come to the stadium and will support us and the whole of India will watch us play in the television. For this moment only and for the country, we have made these sacrifices," he added.
He said the players are focussed on the game against USA and not thinking of any other things.
"We will fight as a unit and are ready and prepared for the tournament," said Amarjit.
De Matos said his players have made a lot of improvement in defending and then in making transitions to attacking. He, however, said his boys are lacking in finishing.
“Since I took over the boys have made a lot of improvement. Earlier, they played more direct football but I have a different philosophy and I wanted more possession football. They have learnt a lot and they are making improvements in defence and in transitions.
“These two lines -- defensive and midfield -- are very important and we have to close down the gap between these two lines against an attacking side like the US. But whether these improvements will be good enough against US or other teams in the tournament, we don't know. We have to see," said de Matos.
Regarding the attacking aspect of his players, he said, "A side like US will score from three chances on an average but we may take seven chances to convert into a goal. That is the difference."
He understandably did not reveal who will come in place of right full back Boris Singh Wangjam, who will not play on Friday after being red-carded in India's match against Iran in the AFC U-16 Championships last year.
US coach John Hackworth refused to take India lightly, describing the hosts as a hard working side.
"India are one of the hardest working teams I have seen. The way they play and compete are assumptions without seeing them since last year. It's going to be a difficult game as the whole crowd is going to be on their side," Hackworth said.
India and US U-17 sides have played each other in the AIFF Youth Cup last year. US won 4-0 in that match in Goa.
Hackworth also does not want to see Friday's match as US attack versus Indian defence.
"I have a different approach for that. I think the key to tomorrow's game is our defence playing well. They (defenders) are the ones who initiate things for our attack. So, it's very important they play well.What we have seen is their number 9 (striker Aniket Jadhav) plays well and our defence must contain him," said the US coach.
"Our team is ready. We have a proper plan, we just need to come up with the right line-up against India. We do have a deep clusture of attacking players so it does become a difficult job to pick players."
Captain Josh Sargent said his team will not have any problem in playing in Indian conditions.
"We have done practice in Florida, weather is very hot there. It was very suitable for us to get use to conditions like this (in India). Last time we were here (in AIFF Youth Cup), we got acclimatise to the weather pretty quickly and we manage to do the same this time also," said the star striker.
"India is a very good team, hardworking team but I know our team is ready and we will play a good match."