Mystery of India soccer: 8 months before U-17 World Cup coach

India Soccer World Cup

Japan Cup / March 15, 2018

Members of India’s football team stand in front of the Indian flag as the national anthem is played prior to a FIFA World Cup 2018 match between India and Oman in Bangalore, June 11. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Dig out that list of Indian soccer lows, there is a new one to add, in bold.

India lost to Guam in a qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday. India, it will be pointed out again and again, is a nation of 1.2 billion people. Guam has around 160, 000. For every person in Guam there are 7, 500 in India.

Even so, India lost the match 2-1. It was nearly worse. Guam was heading for a clean sheet right through to the 93rd minute, but India’s captain Sunil Chetri scored with a header in the very last play of the match.

The goal won’t count for much. India also lost its first match of this stage of the qualifiers 2-1 to Oman. Again Chetri was the scorer, but his team is now bottom of its group. Guam is top.

“Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to see Guam top of Group D, ” the team’s coach Gary White said to The Wall Street Journal last week. His confidence was admirable, but surely this little U.S. territory couldn’t take top spot in the group.

The last time Guam played World Cup qualifiers – in 2000 – it conceded 35 goals in two matches and didn’t score at all. Now it has two wins and six points from two matches.

There won’t be another match in Group D until September, leaving Guam to bask in its well-deserved glory and India to wallow in its misery.

Away matches await – including against Iran and Oman – so this could be as good as it gets for Guam, but the team shouldn’t be underestimated. The national soccer team, known as the Matao, is no longer a pushover at this level. White has turned them into a confident, tightly-knit unit, and this win will boost the popularity of soccer on the island even more.

“It has been really successful and we’re starting to compete now at that midlevel range in Asia, which when you think about it is kind of crazy with the population and playing resources that we have compared to these other countries, ” White said.

Guam defeated Turkmenistan in its opening match of the qualifiers last week. Prior to that, the country had never hosted a World Cup-related match, and the island embraced the prospect of playing against Turkmenistan and India at home.

After Tuesday’s win over India, with goals from Brandon McDonald and Travis Nicklaw, the Matao’s song – by Elvis Costello’s brother Ronan MacManus – was played through speakers around the ground.