The U-17 Colts will be playing the main event in 2023.

After their recent triumph at the SAFF U-17 championship, the India U-17 men’s team again emerged as triumphant in their latest outing in Saudi Arabia. They qualified for the 2023 AFC U-17 Asian Cup by winning three out of their four Qualifiers. A few days later, the India U-20 men’s team failed to qualify for the 2023 AFC U-20 Asian Cup as they registered only one victory out in the qualifiers.

Despite the stark contrast in the outcomes from the two tournaments, both the junior teams played good football. Even though the U-20 team could not qualify, many of the youngsters from the team caught the eye of football pundits across the nation.

Here, we will take a look at the top five footballers who impressed in both these tournaments.

5. Himanshu Jangra (U-20)

Himanshu Jangra was one of the standout Indian players in their disappointing outing. Despite not being able to get on the scoresheet, his looming presence kept opposition defenders on their toes in all the matches. He made strong runs and quick passes, and took shots at every instant to make his presence feel.

Himanshu Jangra. (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

Jangra actively contributed to creating a number of chances for India. His off-the-ball work rate was also very healthy, which actively aided India to make inroads into the opposition territory. However, the East Bengal forward lacked a bit of composure at the crucial moments, due to which he could not get get himself a goal. Yet, Shanmugam Venkatesh (India U-20 coach) must be happy with his performance because of his diligence and effectiveness.

4. Gurkirat Singh (U-20)

Gurkirat Singh has been the best performer for his team in the qualifiers. The number 9 led his team from the front. The Mumbai City forward continued right from where he left in the 2022 SAFF U-20 Championship and scored three goals in three matches. In the last fixture against Kuwait, he also bagged the winning goal.

Also Read: AFC U-20 Asian Cup Qualifiers Review: India fail to qualify but show promise of better future

Throughout the competition, he showed scintillating form and played good football against strong opponents like Iraq and Australia. His performance clearly portrayed the effects of training under Des Buckingham, with the likes of Greg Stewart and Bipin Singh. He treaded on the pitch confidently and exhibited mature composure in front of the oppositions’ goals. Surely, Des Buckingham would be very happy to have him back in his backyard for the ISL.

3. Sahil Poonia (U-17)

Sahil Poonia is the goalkeeper of the Indian U-17 men’s football team. The recently concluded tournament proved to be a productive one for him as he conceded only three goals in four matches. Among these three, he conceded one against Myanmar, which India won comfortably. Saudi Arabia scored the other two goals, including a penalty. In all these instances, he had nothing to do to prevent the goals. He was able to keep clean sheets in the other two encounters, one against the Maldives and the other against Kuwait.

Sahil Poonia won the Golden Glove in SAFF U-17 Championship 2022. (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

Overall, Sahil continued his form from the 2022 U-17 SAFF Championship. He made good saves and clearances and guided India’s defence from the back. If he keeps on playing in this manner, he shall prove to be a great asset for the national team in the elite continental tournament next year.

2. Vanlalpeka Guite (U-17)

Vanlalpeka Guite had a brilliant outing at the qualifiers where he helped his team to qualify for the main event. He too like Sahil, began from where he left off in the 2022 U-17 SAFF Championship and registered three goals in four matches. He scored one against the Maldives and a brace against Myanmar. Guite is the captain of the side and led the team as an example. By combining well with his fellow attackers, he consistently pestered opposition defenders, resulting in India scoring at will in three of the games.

Throughout the tournament, Guite exhibited impeccable goal-scoring prowess, strong technical abilities, and a composed mindset. Hence, with such good qualities at such an early age, it is imperative for the team management to nurture him so that he can transform into a star in the future.

1. Thanglalsoun Gangte (U-17)

Thanglalsoun Gangte celebrates after scoring in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup Qualifiers. (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

Another footballer who successfully built on the momentum of the 2022 U-17 SAFF Championship, Thanglalsoun Gangte was the highest scorer for India in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup Qualifiers. He scored five goals in four matches, four of which came as braces. It was clear from his performance in the competition that he has continued to work on his technical abilities during the interval between the SAFF Championship and the latest qualifiers where he scored against stronger opponents like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

There is a clear improvement in his finishing, forward runs, passing, and placement of shots. He proved to be a constant menace for opposition defenders who were often struggling to mark him or catch up with his runs. Thus, the Indian football fraternity can rely on him to make India’s attack more lethal in the championship next year.

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