Every time the Blue Colts have met Nepal in the final of this event, they have emerged victorious.
India started the SAFF U-17 Championship as the defending champion and was able to meet all the expectations. They defended the title and won their 4th in the process. The performance of the young colts was remarkable. They defeated Nepal 4-0 in the final. It was sweet revenge for the Indian side as they had lost to Nepal in the group stages – their only defeat in the tournament.
The tournament gave rise to new stars, whom the Indian football fraternity can well expect to feature in the senior side after some years. Overall, the tournament proved to be a great learning curve for the young Indian side, which showed resilience and strong character to ensure that the title comes back home.
India began the tournament against a relatively-weaker Bhutan. They did not make any mistakes in the match and won it 3-0. Youngsters like Thanglalsoun Gangte and Vanlalpeka Guite scored, with the former netting a brace. The entire team played well, with the defenders playing their part quite efficiently. The goalkeeper too did not make any mistakes in the first match. As a result, India achieved a clean sheet and began the tournament on a positive note.
India’s second match of the tournament was the only fixture in which they suffered a defeat. The Blue Colts lost the match against a spirited Nepal by a margin of 3-1. Nepal played extremely well and made a brilliant comeback. This score line against the tournament favourites was seen as a statement win for Nepal.
Despite the setback from Nepal, India reached the semi-final comfortably, finishing second in their group. The semi-final was a thrilling encounter with Bangladesh, in which India edged passed 2-1. Gangte scored a brace in this match, yet again. He became the joint top-scorer with Mirajul from Bangladesh after the brace and ended the tournament in the pole position. The defence showed character and resilience in the match after Bangladesh scored one and kept them at bay for the rest of the match.
With the win in the semi-final, India reached the final and met Nepal. Nepal was brimming with confidence after thrashing Sri Lanka 6-0 in the semis. However, India humbled their neighbours with a thumping 4-0 win in the final on Wednesday (14th September). Four different Indian players were on the scoresheet. India performed well in all the areas of the pitch and ensured that they were able to get their revenge for the group stage defeat. Thus, India was able to defend their title in style and win their fourth in the process.
The U-17 SAFF Championship proved to be a superb tournament for the Indian side. They showed strong character, high technical abilities, and brilliant individual performances to win the cup. In this regard, Thanglalsoun Gangte, the joint top-scorer, deserves a mention. He played superbly throughout and always scored when the team needed it. Moreover, a total of six players from India were on the scoresheet.
Barring the group-stage match against Nepal, India played consistently well in all other matches. Their defensive organisation, transitions, on-field leadership, etc. caught the attention of football pundits in the region. Most importantly, such a good performance by a bunch of youngsters seems to be the real takeaway from the tournament. With the future of Indian football in such able hands, we can definitely hope for better in the future.
Lack of composure throughout
Despite the fact that India was the best team in the tournament, the manner in which they conceded might be a cause of worry. In the group-stage match against Nepal, India’s performance was very poor. The Indian defenders lost composure and conceded three goals. Also, in the semi-final, when India was leading by 2-0, the team got a bit complacent and conceded a penalty.
Bangladesh converted it, which invited more pressure as the opponents desperately hunted for the equalizer. India came back on track after conceding to ensure that Bangladesh did not score again. However, the manner in which India conceded the penalty while leading might be a cause of worry for the management and they shall need to address it.
The Indian team built a nucleus around the skipper Vanlalpeka Guite with nine to 10 regular starters. With the core being constant, the team looked strong in the offensive third and predominantly appeared to have a plan in place for every match. The team’s midfield looked solid throughout the tournament barring the single match where they faced a defeat. All the team members played their roles with a resolve to defend the title, which they were able to do.
The role of head coach Bibiano Fernandes deserves a special mention here as he put forth a proper plan for the team to work on. Mostly employing the 3-4-3 formation, the coach was able to marshal his troops well. In the final, despite deploying a different formation of 4-3-3, the team performed extremely well to humble their neighbours. Overall, throughout the competition, the unit looked cohesive, threatening, and never out of options.
Vanlalpeka Guite was named the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament. He is the captain of the side and led the team from the front. Guite played all over the pitch, inspired his teammates, and scored two crucial goals, one of which was in the final. He showcased maturity and a composed mindset while being on the pitch. With this level of maturity at such a young age, we can be sure that he is going to be a star in the future.
Thanglalsoun Gangte is one of the joint top-scorers of the tournament with a tally of four goals from four matches. The forward from Sudeva Delhi FC scored two braces in two crucial matches, including one in the semi-final. He played a crucial role up front and always looked threatening. His goal-scoring prowess had speed, composure, and good technical abilities. As a result of his performance, he caught the attention of the Indian football vertical.
The Indian goalkeeper played a pivotal role in the title defence for the country. Sahil led the team from the back and made sure that the defence was well-organised. He made important saves and portrayed composure under the sticks to achieve two clean sheets in four matches. One of the clean sheets was in the final – no mean feat. As a reward for his performance, he won the Best Goalkeeper Award.
Coach’s Report Card
It was a tough challenge for coach Bibiano Fernandes to defend the title, which he was able to do comprehensively. He marshalled the troops well and kept everyone’s morale high, especially after the group-stage defeat. Bibiano chose the playing eleven effectively in all the matches and fielded the right full-strength teams in crucial fixtures.
Under Bibiano’s stewardship, the team displayed a solid performance throughout the tournament. The coach showed good confidence in the team and backed the young boys in adverse situations. After the triumph, he heaped praise on the team and hailed the efforts of the boys. ‘I am extremely proud of my boys’, he stated moments after India’s victory. Such statements show how much confidence he has in the team. It also conveys how he wants to entirely credit the players for the victory. Thus, with such a person at the mantle, the fans can expect similar results from the team in the future.
As India concludes another SAFF Championship with a triumph, it is now clearer than ever that India needs to participate in more competitive tournaments comprising the heavyweights of Asia. The team’s performance in this edition of the U-17 tournament reiterates this fact. The statement doesn’t claim that India should not play in the tournament. India should definitely participate in SAFF Championships with its full force as a test for its team. However, they should increasingly look to get into tougher competitions more frequently across all age groups. For age-restricted tournaments, the nation can use the platforms to scout young talent by providing them international exposure.
The overall display of the team in the SAFF U-17 Championship was on spot throughout, barring certain bad patches. The team seems ready to take on the big boys of Asia like Japan and Australia. The players of this team should be nurtured effectively as they possess that high potential which is needed to shine in the future. With the right guidance and exposure, this bunch of players can become an asset to the country in the long run.