India has been drawn in a tough group alongside heavyweights, Korea Republic, Australia, Uzbekistan and Bahrain for this years AFC U-16 Championship to be held in Bahrain.
The tournament is scheduled to be held from 25 November to 12 December. The top four teams will earn a direct qualification to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru in 2021.
The U-16 coach Bibiano Fernandes revealed in the Instagram Live chat with the Indian Football team’s page that he was not concerned about the teams that the Indian U-16 team will have to face, considering their performance in the qualifiers, where they topped their group and picked up big wins against Turkmenistan (5-0), Bahrain (5-0), and a draw versus Uzbekistan. He said,
“I believe in my boys they can compete with any team at any level. I am sure our boys will make us proud.”
The tournament was pushed from mid-September to late November, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the coach expressed how the preparation of the team have continued virtually with strength training, goalkeeping and ball mastering sessions conducted online.
The Indian team’s best finish has been quarterfinals in the year 2002 and 2018. In the 2018 edition of the tournament, a single loss to South Korea (0-1) in the quarterfinals saw them bow out of the tournament.
Fernandes recalled the 2018 loss in the quarterfinal as a sign of improvement, “If we look at the matches we played the gap is not very big. Last time we lost by just one goal in the quarterfinal. We played against Turkmenistan and Bahrain this time and the gap is not too much. Just a little bit of work on the ground and we will be there. It is just a matter of time before we will be among the top 5 teams in Asia.”
The team would definitely be looking forward to bettering the record of their predecessors. The current crop of players have produced some good results, they currently are on an unbeaten eight-match streak, and in the past year have been prolific netting 28 goals. They were the SAFF U-15 Champions as well.