India rising: In the line of fire

MARCUS MERGULHAO|TNN PANAJI, 4th Oct: For India, a save can be as much as a goal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. There is no denying that India are among the weakest teams in the group and will find themselves pinned inside their own half, for most part.

The likes of United States, Colombia and former INDIA world champions RISING Ghana are all title aspirants, leaving India with a huge battle on their hands.

The busiest Indian on the field will surely be the goal keeper and India's No 1, Dheeraj Singh, knows he must measure up to the challenge or risk a major embarrassment in front of home fans.

"I have to stay focused right from the first minute to the last. If I take my eyes off (the ball), it can have disastrous consequences," says Dheeraj, India's most experienced goalkeeper with 42 caps.

It was Dheeraj's reassuring presence under the bar that gave India a famous 1-1 draw against World Cup participants Chile during a four-nation tournament in Mexico. It were his saves that restricted the margin of defeat against a dominating Colombia to three goals. "The pressure is always intense during the first 15 minutes and the last 15 (minutes)," said Dheeraj, who kept India's goal during the AFC U-16 Championship last year and saved two penalties.

Prabsukhan Gill, the other goalkeeper likely to feature in at least one of the three matches, believes the goalkeeper would have to come up with "at least four or five unbelievable saves" in every game.

"Unless a goalkeeper makes four or five unbelievable saves, we don't stand a chance. It is important for the goalkeeper to be at his best for India to stay in the game. This tournament will depend on the keepers," said Gill, who has also spent time on the India substitute bench as a defender.

Gill should know. He was guarding India's goal during the international friendlies against a select team from Italian leagues and the national team of Macedonia, both of which he helped keep a clean Rajtilak Naik slate. When India coach Luis Norton de Matos opted to field him against Mexico, though, the attacks were too much to handle. India lost 1-5.

When the World Cup kicks off on Friday, home fans will expect better. And the goalkeepers will be at the heart of it all.


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