The India U-17 landed in Thailand two weeks ahead of their tournament opener against Vietnam (June 17) in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, to acclimatise and best prepare for success after a long tour in Europe. Back home, there is a keen sense of expectation from the Blue Colts and a desire to see them become the first ones to break through the quarterfinals barrier (India’s best result) of the tournament.
Amarjit Singh Kiyam knows more than most what it takes to represent India at the age-group level in big tournaments. The East Bengal midfielder was captain when India debuted and hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017.
“Sometimes when we talk, all of us from that 2017 batch, we reminisce about all the great times we had together of course, but also about how it prepared us for life ahead,” Kiyam says, speaking via phone from his home in Manipur. “Playing against some good teams in the lead up as well as the tournament itself taught me a lot about how to improve tactically, technically, and also as a person on the pitch itself.”
A key fulcrum of that side, Kiyam went on to play for the Indian Arrows in the I-League, and the Senior National Team soon after. He wasn’t alone in doing so, with many others from that batch — Anwar Ali, Jeakson Singh, Lalengmawia Ralte, Suresh Wangjam, Rahim Ali and Aniket Jadhav — going on to don the India blue at the senior level.
Kiyam credits the conditioning when he was a part of the age-group teams for a lot of their success. “I think just being part of that squad was huge in terms of development,” he says. “Playing against experienced players, some of the best in the country, as well as foreigners really honed me and prepared me for the senior level.”
Kiyam knows that the current U-17s have been undergoing a long and rigorous preparation for their ultimate test in Thailand.
“At this level there are no easy opponents,” he says. “But neither should you feel pressure. I know that inevitably there will be some, after all you’re playing for your country, and just putting on that jersey pumps the nerves up a bit. But my advice is that you let your training take over and just enjoy yourself on the pitch. You won’t lose, and you won’t make mistakes. All you’ll do is learn. And everything you learn will make you a better player and a person. Enjoy the experience and everything else will follow.”