New Delhi: Their transformation from rank outsiders to valiant fighters drawing all-round praise, India face another test of character against former champions Ghana in their final group A game of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, on Thursday.
Not many had given India any chance against Colombia after their 0-3 loss to United States in their opening match but the home side put up an inspired performance, showing that the country can compete against the best in the world.
Coach Luis Norton de Matos' defensive gameplan was executed to near perfection by his players against Colombia and the tournament debutants would have eked out a win had a bit of luck gone their way.
Colombia largely dominated the match but as de Matos later asserted, the outcome of that game could have been different had India taken the lead in the first half. It could have happened if Rahul Kannoly's first half stoppage time volley had not hit the post.
With the expectations now rising, de Matos and his boys would be aiming to show that the performance against Colombia was no fluke and they were worthy competitors in this global showpiece, where they were automatic qualifiers as hosts.
But it will not be easy for them as Ghana are the most physical side in the group. No doubt, the two-time former champions Ghana will start as clear favourites in Thursday's final Group A match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Even a win for India, which is unlikely though not improbable, is not expected to take them to the knock-out stage as USA have already booked a round of 16 berth while Colombia and Ghana are on three points each.
Without any point so far, India have conceded five goals and scored once to have a goal difference which will decide the group rankings if two or more teams have equal points of minus four, the least among the four teams in the group.
With a nearly non-existent youth development system in the country and hence a small pool of talented youngsters, de Matos built a team in seven months after he took charge in March.
And from the beginning he has been rightly saying that India have a small chance of winning each of the three group matches. Understandably, he had to devise a defensive gameplan and banking on counter-attacks through quick transition to offensive mode. De Matos knows that it is easier said than done with his player lacking in competition experience.
He is happy with the game plan but has said that the side needs a lot of improvement in the transitional and attacking aspects. Maintaining the shape in a well-organized formation has been pivotal to his tactics.
Playing mostly in 4-4-1-1 formation, the Indian team maintained its shape very well throughout the match against Colombia and the little gap between the two defensive lines of back four and midfield four did not give much space to the rival attackers.
De Matos is likely to continue with the same strategy against Ghana tomorrow. If India can go to the breather goal- less just like they did against the Colombians, it will be interesting to see whether he will think of opening up the game and press for goals.
Goalkepeer Dheeraj Singh has been one of the two best performers for India and he is likely to continue at that position.
The other good performer Anwar Ali is expected to marshall the Indian defence along with Namit Deshpande, who started against Colombia, at the center of the back-four.
Anwar, who has been praised profusely by the USA and Colombian coaches, got a few knocks in the previous match but played the whole 90 minutes without any problem.
Boris Singh and Sanjeev Stalin are expected to be in the starting line-up as right and left full-backs respectively. Boris, who returned to the side after missing out the match against USA, did a good job against Colombia and he was the supplier of the Rahul Konnoly volley that thudded the goalpost.
Stalin was the one who took the corner kick from which Jeakson Singh scored India's first World Cup goal. De Matos has a lot of options in the midfield as he has packed the squad with players who can play in these positions.
Defensive midfielder Jeakson is expected to continue in the first eleven as his six feet two inches frame will be needed against a physically superior Ghanaians. Ghana, who beat Colombia but lost to USA, would be looking for a win to be assured of an automatic slot in the round of 16 as that will ensure them a top two finish in the group.
India: Dheeraj Singh, Prabhsukhan Gill, Sunny Dhaliwal, Boris Singh, Jitendra Singh, Anwar Ali, Sanjeev Stalin, Hendry Antonay, Namit Deshpande, Suresh Singh, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Abhijit Sarkar, Komal Thatal, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Md. Shahjahan, Rahim Ali, Aniket Jadhav.
Ghana: Ibrahim Danlad, Michael Acquaye, Kwame Aziz, Najeeb Yakubu, Gideon Mensah, Bismark Terry Owusu, Edmund Arko-Mensah, Abdul Razak Yusif, Gideon Acquah, Rashid Alhassan, John Out, Isaac Gyamfi, Gabriel Leveh, Ibrahim Sulley, Mohammed Kudus, Emmanuel Toku, Mohammed Iddriss, Eric Ayiah, Richard Danso, Mohammed Aminu, Ibrahim Sadiq.