No. 10 looks back at 'rude reality check'

If playing for India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup filled No. 10 Abhijit Sarkar with pride, watching some spectacular football from the stands gave him a "rude reality check".

By Rith Basu
  • Published 30.10.17
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Abhijit Sarkar

Chinsurah: If playing for India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup filled No. 10 Abhijit Sarkar with pride, watching some spectacular football from the stands gave him a "rude reality check".

Abhijit, 17, was at Salt Lake stadium with 66,000-odd spectators for the final on Saturday. On October 6, the first day of the tournament, he had been on the field in the starting XI for India in Delhi.

The Cristiano Ronaldo fan opened up to Metro about the privilege of playing in a World Cup, the shock of finding out how much better the other teams were and the realisation that to succeed at this level means following a work ethic unlike anything he has known.

Wins that mean little

Abhijit has been with the AIFF Elite Academy in Goa since he was 13 and has already played in 20 countries. Never before had he felt "so outplayed" as in this World Cup. The problem, he feels, is that Indian age-group teams on tour get to play club sides that are much weaker than the national teams. "We have won matches against club sides in Spain, for instance. Those matches gave a false sense of security, we thought we were as good as anyone," said Abhijit. "We knew the national teams would be better and we thought we would give everything on the field and make up for the difference. We found out that this can never happen the way we play," he said.

Big teams, bigger gulf

"The teams we played against (USA, Colombia and Ghana) were all better than us in every respect - from speed to stamina, physique to accuracy of passes," Abhijit said.

In the match against USA, which India lost 0-3, the Bengal boy was left spellbound by the accuracy of passes. He also struck by how someone who fell out of position would be quickly replaced by a teammate.

Against Colombia, India scored their only goal of the tournament but lost 1-2 despite the South Americans having what Abhijit thought was "an off day". He said the Colombian players' range of shots impressed him throughout the tournament.

Ghana had players whose strength and stamina were difficult to match for the Indians, Abhijit said. India went down 0-4, three of those goals coming in the second half.

A Cup goal, almost

The moment came in the 16th minute of the match against Colombia. Abhijit played a wall pass with Ninthoinganba Meetei and dribbled past two challenges. He had only goalkeeper Kevin Mier to beat. Kevin blocked his shot, which Abhijit believes was a "lucky" one.

Life has changed

For the first time in his life, Abhijit was felicitated by supporters at Dum Dum airport on his return from Delhi with two teammates: forward Rahim Ali and defender Jitender Singh.

"I have heard that the U-17 team is being discussed now. Although people don't know me by face, I am sure those who follow football have heard the name Abhijit Sarkar," he smiled.