FIFA U17 World Cup: Where could India have finished had they not hit the woodwork twice?
India's FIFA U17 World Cup campaign came to an expected premature close when Ghana swept them aside the final Group A game last Thursday. The Colts conceded nine goals in the tournament, among the highest, and suffered the consequences of myriad factors including inexperience and a lack of big-game mentality.
A lot has been learned by the India U17s during their maiden foray into the global elite, where teams can punish you for every little mistake. Jitendra Singh witnessed it firsthand during the opening game against the USA when his lax positioning allowed the street-wise Americans to gain spatial advantage and subsequently earn a penalty.
That aside, there were plenty of moments during India's three World Cup games where one moment of madness brought down an entire house - the most notable being the occasions where the Colts missed the goal by a matter of inches, when Anwar Ali and Rahul Kannoly Praveen rattled the woodwork and left the crowd gasping in frustration.
In the group stages, India hit the frame of the goal twice, the joint-third highest. Following is the table for the top 12 teams sorted by the number of shots that hit the woodwork.
It is no surprise that India find themselves near the top of this chart, but what would've happened had the Colts found the net instead of the woodwork?
Looking at the results, India would've gone on to draw against Colombia 2-2 while losing to the USA 3-1. That wouldn't have changed India's qualification scenario one bit because the Colts would still have a single point with a -6 goal difference, not enough to qualify even as a third-placed team. Mexico are the worst third-placed team in the R16 with just two points from their three matches.
Looking with a different lens, had India scored from that Anwar Ali shot that crashed off the bar and set the USA on their way to their third goal, the scoreline would've been 2-1 in USA's favour and as India coach Luis Norton de Matos said, "If we had scored that goal, the scoreline would have been 2-1 and USA would have been different in the last 10 minutes. That could have changed the complexion," what would've happened at the 2-1 game state is anyone's guess.
Against Colombia as well, India had the chance to take the lead before the South Americans came up with sucker punches to take the life out of India's challenge.
De Matos again rued Rahul's post-rattling effort after the Colombia game: "It is a pity that the ball hit the post and we did not score. Had we scored a goal, we would have been 1-0 up and the outcome of this match could have been different."
Game states tended to be against India at all times during the FIFA U17 World Cup. Who knows what might have happened to the Colts' prospects had they converted those chances. For example, Niger somehow scrambled into the Round of 16 by scoring a solitary goal. However, in the Africans' case, that goal came in a 1-0 win over Korea DPR, suggesting that all a team needed to qualify for the knockouts was a single goal and some luck.
India scored once and almost added two more, but what could've happened if India scored those two goals instead of hitting the woodwork will remain a mystery forever.