The youth tournament was supposed to be organized in Bahrain from November this year.

India can breathe a sigh of relief, as the Asian Football Confederation is expected to announce the postponement of the AFC U-16 Championship to 2021. The tournament was supposed to take place in Bahrain between November 25 and December 12 this year.

The rising numbers of COVID-19 around Asia, mean that like continental matches such as the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers– the age-group tournament is likely to be postponed as well. The remaining FIFA World Cup Qualifiers of the Indian senior team have already been postponed.

A senior All India Football Federation (AIFF) official told The Times of India, “We are waiting for confirmation (from AFC). From what we know, the tournament will be postponed. It has been decided by the competitions committee.”

This will be a blessing for the Indian U-16 team, who would have had to participate in the tournament without adequate training because of the pandemic in the country. The Blue Colts were initially supposed to train in Goa from July, but the plan was put on hold due to the rising number of cases in the state.

The Sports Ministry was reportedly reluctant to give the go-ahead for the training camp and wanted it held at SAI Thiruvanananthapuram, which was shortlisted as the probable venue.

However, the AIFF plans to send the team abroad to get necessary training, if the tournament isn’t delayed. “We have kept some options of training abroad. We are just waiting for the official announcement. If the tournament is postponed, it doesn’t make sense for us to start training now. But, if the tournament is on schedule, we will have the camp abroad. We are expecting an announcement in less than 10 days,” the official said.

The India U-16 team have been placed in a difficult group against heavyweights Korea Republic, Australia and Uzbekistan in the AFC U-16 Championship. India performed admirably in the previous edition of the championship in 2018, when they progressed to the quarterfinals and fell one win short of qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2019.

Being able to qualify for the last four this time will also guarantee a direct place in the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2021 in Peru. However, with COVID-19 delaying many AFC and FIFA tournaments, it remains to be seen when the U-16 boys can start preparing for the likely delayed U-16 Championship.

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