Rank outsiders India ended their maiden FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign in a cry of pain and agony as they were handed a 0-4 thrashing by two-time champions Ghana in their final group match in New Delhi. The Indians played their hearts out in the final Group A game but that was not enough as formidable Ghana outplayed them in all departments. The scoreline, though, would not tell the exact story.
Captain Eric Ayiah scored twice - in the 43rd and 52nd minutes - while second-half substitutes Richard Danso (86th) and Emmanuel Toku (87th) struck once each to break the hearts of the 52,614 home supporters at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The fans had turned up in large numbers, hoping that their players would come up with another inspiring show, like they had done against Colombia in the previous match.
With Colombia beating the USA 3-1 in the other Group A game in Mumbai on Thursday, Ghana topped the group. Colombia also qualified in the round of 16 as they finished second. USA had to be content with the third place.
All the three Ghana, Colombia and USA ended with three points each. But Ghana had the best goal difference of plus four while Colombia and USA had plus two each. As the number of goals scored between USA and Colombia were also the same 5 the ranking was decided on head to head record.
To be fair to the Indians, they had not done too badly in the tournament against the best in the world. Built into a team in around two years through scouting from across the country and being trained together by head coach Luis Norton de Matos for just seven months, it was not expected to even perform like this.
They were also unlucky not to have added at least a goal each in the match against USA (which they lost 0-3) and against Colombia (which they narrowly lost 1-2).
Vastly superior in physique, speed and skill, the Ghanaians totally dominated the match as far as both possession and shots were concerned. Ghana also needed a win to be sure of a top-two finish in the group and hence an automatic knock-out berth, prompting them to keep the Indian citadel under seize throughout the match.
It was desperate defending for the most part of the match with nine outfield players behind the ball in their own half with only Aniket Jadhav lurking upfront. Even Aniket had to run deep down and help his team-mates in the wake of the wave of Ghana offensive.
The crowd cheered lustily to spur the home players but it was too much for the Indians to keep on defending all the time against the rampaging Ghana attackers and they wilted under the enormous pressure.
As de Matos had picked his two key players for Ghana, Sadiq Ibrahim and Bismark Owusu - the left and right wingers respectively - tormented the Indians time and again with their speed and deft manoeuvres.
In the first 45 minutes, all that India could manage was a 16th-minute free-kick at the edge of the box, which Sanjeev Stalin took, only for the Ghanaian goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim to clear without a fuss.
To be fair to India, Ghana also did not have too many strikes on target. Ghana captain Eric Ayaih had a fierce right-footer in the 35th minute tipped over by goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh. A short while later, Ibrahim Sulley had a shot at the Indian goal, which was again saved by Dheeraj.
It was a matter of time the Ghana goal came and it all started from the right flank. Sadiq Ibrahim cut through the right, sent a low cross, which Dheeraj tried to collect with a dive but spilled over and Ayaih was there to fire home with a bullet right-footed shot.
The second half was not much different as India defended grimly but Ghana ended the hosts' flickering hopes of getting any point from the tournament with Ayiah finding the target once again, in the 52nd minute, for his second goal of the night.
De Matos pulled out captain Amarjit Singh and replaced him with striker Rahim Ali to try and look for at least a goal.
India had two shots at the opposition goal late in the match through Rahim Ali and Lalengmawia, another second-half substitute, but they did not trouble the Ghana keeper much.
Then the home side conceded two more goals in the space of one minute with Danso and Toku completing the rout.
Earlier, De Matos brought back Jitendra Singh in place of Namit Deshpande to pair with Anwar Ali at the centre of the defence after benching him against Colombia.
Suresh Singh Wangjam also returned to the midfield after missing out on the previous match while Aniket Jadhav and Naorem Nongdamba were named in the starting line-up after coming on as substitutes against Colombia.
Amarjit, who was doubtful with a swollen right ankle till last night, was cleared by the team doctor to take the field, just like Anwar, who also got a few knocks against Colombia.
(With PTI Inputs)