The Blue Colts will take on Turkmenistan, Bahrain and Uzbekistan in arguably the toughest group in the qualifiers.

The India U-15 team won the SAFF Championship recently, plundering goals for fun, playing at the Kalyani Stadium in West Bengal, under the watchful eyes of coach Bibiano Fernandes. The team looks in good shape, but has a more difficult challenge coming up – the qualifiers for the AFC U-16 Championship – to be held in Tashkent between September 18-22.

The boys recently played a friendly encounter against their counterparts from famous Turkish club Fenerbahce and won 6-3, right after they had defeated Keciorengucu FC 7-0 in another one-sided clash. The Colts will face Turkmenistan, Bahrain and the hosts in Group B.

Watch: India U-16 head coach Bibiano Fernandes talks ahead of his side’s AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers campaign

Key Players & Chances

Sridarth Nongmeikapam has made a name for himself recently, scoring four times against the Turkish club, after netting a hat-trick in the SAFF Championship final against Nepal. He will be well supported by the Player of the Tournament (SAFF U-15 Championship 2019) Himanshu Jangra, who had helped himself to two hat-tricks, scoring seven times in the tournament.

Fernandes knows the challenges that await him. He was the man in-charge when Vikram Pratap Singh and Co. qualified for the AFC U-16 Championship in 2018, after earning a famous draw against heavyweights Iraq. It was a talismanic performance, where Vikram ran like it was the last match of his life and the defenders played their heart out to take their team through.

After qualification, the side earned more feathers under their belt, drawing against Iran and Indonesia, to put the former out of the knockout stages. The match was a relishing experience of grit and India had come close to scoring twice in the dying moments of the game. The team, though, could not get the better of South Korea and exited in the quarterfinals, having made a name for themselves.

Coming back to this new side, it revolves centrally around Maheson Singh Tongbram and Sibajit Singh Leimapokpam, helped by the creative urgency of Shubho Paul. Shubho, another name coming out of this current Bengali renaissance, is a forward who likes to drop deep to contribute to the build-up.

Preetam Meitei, Anish Mazumdar, Paogoumang Singson and Amandeep are usually entrusted with buffing up the defence in front of Aman Kumar, who had let in just seven goals in 11 games until the Turkey trip. This group of players have scored 58 times in the same duration and look set to take the next step.

This team plays football that’s easy on the eye. They move the ball swiftly and find runners in spaces. They’re not shy to play the ball on the ground, a trait that’s slowly and positively creeping into Indian football. They break the lines both centrally and aerially, a trait not a lot of teams possess even in the global game. It remains to be seen how effectively this plan works against better and faster sides.

India start their campaign against Turkmenistan, play Bahrain next and end the qualification round against Uzbekistan. The Blue Colts need to be among the top two teams to qualify for the final tournament that will start from September 16, 2020. On paper, India look well placed to win at least two games and top the group, but will need to make sure that they do not make silly mistakes at the back and convert their chances well up top.

Fixtures

September 18

India U-16 Vs Turkmenistan U-16

4:30 PM

TTYMI Stadioni

September 20

Bahrain U-16 Vs India U-16

4:30 PM IST

TTYMI Stadioni

September 22

India U-16 Vs Uzbekistan U-16

4:30 PM IST

Stadion Majmuasi

Khel Now will keep you abreast with updates and analysis from the tournament.