India Under-17 football head coach Luis Norton de Matos today said that he has not lost hope of the country advancing beyond the group stages in the upcoming World Cup but termed his team's chances in the prestigious FIFA event as "small". Addressing a press conference here, de Matos said even in case his boys fail to go beyond the group stages, they will show the world that they can compete at the highest level and do the country proud.
"I will be realistic, I would say we have a small chance, considering the draw. But it can still happen. In football you never know," de Matos said when asked about India's chances of going beyond the group stages.
"Even if we could not go a long way in the tournament, I am sure the players will be competitive. They will show that India can compete at the same level, against the best in the world," said the 63-year-old Portuguese.
"This World Cup is the beginning of the football project in India, not the end. The performance of these boys will give a perfect start to this project," he added.
India are clubbed along with strong teams Ghana (two-time champions and two-time runners-up), Colombia and United States. All of India's matches will be played in New Delhi.
India will kick off their campaign against the USA on October 6 before taking on Colombia on October 9. The hosts will conclude the first phase with a match against Ghana.
"I always play for a win. I know it will be difficult to win against these sides. Ghana, US, and Colombia are very strong teams and they have prepared very well. But it (a win) can happen, you never know.
"We have prepared very well in the last 4-5 months since March. We had been to Europe for an exposure tour, have played 25 friendly matches and we are confident. Even if we have 5 per cent chance for a win, we will go for it," he said.
Asked what could be the difference between India and the other teams, the Portuguese was quick to point out the number of competitive matches the European, Latin American and African teams have played.
"When we talked about these teams like Ghana, US, and Colombia, their players have been playing football for the last 10 years. They have the experience of playing a lot of competitive matches, in tournaments. That is the difference," said de Matos.
De Matos replaced German Nicolai Adam who was sacked after complaints by the players of physical and verbal abuse.
"But we have improved a lot since I joined in March. The next two and a half months are crucial. We are trying out a lot of formations, combinations and working out on how to react to different situations."
He said before he took over, the team played more direct football which he has changed a bit as he wanted more possession football.
"The team earlier played more direct football than now.
Moreover, 6-7 players have been added from the earlier one (under Nicolai Adam). We have been spending a lot of hours on this passing and receiving, reducing the space etc.
"Another aspect is the mental focus. You may play 89 minutes of fantastic football but if you lose focus in the crucial one minute, you may concede a goal and lose the match," he explained.
De Matos said that his side will know where they actually stand when they take part in a four-nation tournament in Mexico where all the national Under-17 teams will play. Hosts Mexico, Chile, and Colombia are the other teams.
"This tournament will be an important one and there we will know where we stand."
Talking about his coaching style, he said, "I am the chief not the leader. A leader gives orders while I try to be a friend with the players. Of course, I want them to follow what I want them to be. I want to instill confidence in them."
Asked if the football pitches in India were up to the standards, he said, "The pitches we are training (India) are good and the actual World Cup pitches will be even better. The pitches in Europe are the best. I have been to Africa and there the pitches are far more worse (than in India).
He also said that India will not have much of the home condition advantages against the African and American teams.
"In October, the weather conditions in India will be similar to that in these African countries, in Colombia or in the US. It may affect the European teams but not to others," he said.
Understandably, de Matos refused to reveal any formation or the playing style of his team.