AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Not a shot was fired in the air, nor was the trumpet blown, when the Indian team for the 1974 Asian Youth Championship, returned home from Bangkok. They came back as stealthily as they left, but brought with them glory and honour to the country and the joint winners’ trophy after a highly commendable 2-2 draw against Iran in the final.
Today, 49 years later, Shabbir Ali, the legendary captain of the 1974 team, has no regrets. Instead, sitting in his Hyderabad home, on Saturday, June 17, he remained glued to the live streaming of the India versus Vietnam match in the AFC U17 Asian Cup in Bangkok and followed every move with utmost concentration.
“In the end, the 1-1 draw was a bit of a disappointment. We could have won, perhaps. Our build-ups were solid, full of purpose and boys created chances whenever they had the ball,” said Shabbir, a member of the AIFF Executive Committee and chairman of the advisory committee of the federation.
“India are in a strong group. Vietnam are a compact side, and so are Uzbekistan and Japan. What impressed me was India never lost their pattern of play against Vietnam. They held the ball and distributed it well. There was no panic and sense of unnecessary urgency among the boys….I liked this,” he said.
Shabbir said he was impressed by the way the India U17 squad prepared under the able guidance of the federation. “The year we became champions, we hardly received any encouragement before or after the tournament. I remember a particular Kolkata club presenting all the footballers in the squad with a suitcase each. That’s all. With this team, the AIFF’s build-up plan was excellent and the result is showing. The team is doing fine and there is no reason to feel disappointed by the draw in the first match,” said Shabbir.
Another former India captain, Climax Lawrence, was happy with the result. “It wasn’t all about the draw. I admit having three points would have been better, but India had the opportunity to pocket full points. They started well and had greater say on the proceedings in the first half an hour,” said Climax.
Climax drew attention to the fact that India had four clear attempts at the rival goal in the second half. “Vietnam had a couple of opportunities in the first half, but our defence did extremely well to keep them at bay throughout the second session. Our coach Bibiano Fernandes did a fine job with the substitutions. It added value to our game.
“Overall, India played well and played to a plan. I think they can do better than this against stronger opponents like Uzbekistan and Japan,” said Climax, a member of the AIFF Executive Committee.
Vikram Partap Singh, who was the star of India's show in the 2018 edition of the tournament, had scored the winning goal against Vietnam in the group stage, which ultimately led to the Blue Colts making it to the quarter-finals. He feels that India have shown promise for better results in their first game.
“I feel it was a strong start in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup by the boys. I see this as a very positive result, because the first match in a tournament like this is always difficult," said Vikram.
The forward has since gone on to play for India U-23 National Team, and also played a key role in his club Mumbai City's Hero ISL League winners’ shield this season. The 21-year-old feels that the U-17 Asian Cup is a great opportunity for the boys to get noticed.
“I’ve been in their situation back in 2018, and you already tend to be in a set frame of mind after playing a lot of tour matches," said Vikram. "I've seen them play, and they are all very good. I think it's a great opportunity for them to perform and get noticed. They need to enjoy the moment and give it their best. That's all there is to it. Results will come."