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AFC U-16 Championship Preview: Blue Colts face tough Vietnam test in tournament opener

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The Blue Colts need to qualify for the semifinal of the tournament to be qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup next year. 

The India U-16 national team will start their AFC U-16 Championship journey against Vietnam on Friday. Indian footballing circles are expecting some good football and results from Bibiano Fernandes’ lads, given the high-quality performances they have displayed in the build-up to the tournament.

The Golden Dragons, as Vietnam are nicknamed, have set up a promising youth team and years of work on their own grassroots system has done wonders for the Southeast Asian country. The team is unpredictable on their days and like to play an attacking brand of football. Synchronization is their USP, with smart interchange of play in central areas another forte.

About the Teams

India

Indian senior team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has already termed this side to be much better than what his contemporaries were at their age. Captain Sunil Chhetri also added, "The U-16 boys give us a lot of hope. I am really thrilled by their performance. Against Iraq, we not only had more ball-possession, but we also attacked with gusto. Bibiano is doing a great job and the U-16 team has potential to do great things in future.”

Such words may carry their own pressure, but they sure aren’t unjustified. Playing a style of football typical of South American countries, with creative midfielders and stout defenders, India have seen off challenges from the Besiktas youth side and Iraq recently. Fernandes has ensured an open policy of chances to whoever plays better - and that has ensured competitiveness and equality amongst the boys.

India's expected lineup against Vietnam in their AFC U-16 Championship opener

India have participated in the tournament finals on seven occasions, hosting the last edition in 2016. The side reached the knockout stages in 2002, on just one occasion, losing to South Korea 3-1 on September 16, 2002. Vietnam, on the other hand, have played the finals six times, hosting it in 2000. The team, like India, have had forgettable trips to AFC U-16 tournaments. They made the semi-finals at home, their best performance till date.

India can be expected to start in a 4-3-3 formation, something that gives Bibiano that extra midfield protection for his backline and ensures strong link-up attacking play in the centre of the pitch at the same time. In this formation, while he loses Vikram Pratap Singh’s goalscoring prowess upfront, Singh makes it up by providing added protection on the right side of the pitch.

India will be guarded by Niraj Kumar, who’ll be helped by central defenders Gurkirat Singh and Thoiba Moirangthem as central defenders. In the full-back positions, Samir Kerketta and Shabas Ahammed Moothedath can be expected to start. Lalchhanhima Sailo will be at the heart of the midfield, with Givson Singh Moirangthem and Ricky John Shabong to complete the midfield three.

Ridge D’Mello and Bekey Oram will vie for the left forward slot, with Vikram down the right and Rohit Danu starting centrally. The captaincy duties will be shared between the duo.

Vietnam

Vietnam, on the other hand, will be guarded by Nguyễn Duy Dũng in goal. Trịnh Quang Trường and Vũ Tiến Long can be expected to start centrally, but their versatility and innovations in style may see a tweak. Trần Thanh Tú and Nguyễn Đức Trung should complete the back four.

Vietnam are the dark-horses in the group

Nguyễn Thế Hùng and Võ Minh Đan are expected to sit back as a defensive duo in midfield, with three players on the top, behind a central striker. Đinh Thanh Trung, Trịnh Văn Chung and Ngô Quang Thuận are expected to make the attacking troika, with striker Nguyễn Bá Dương operating up top.

Nguyễn Quốc Hoàng will also be in the plans, being one of the most creative players at manager Vu Hong Viet's disposal. Hoàng recently scored a hat-trick against the Philippines at the AFF U-16 Championship 2018 and if he continues to keep up the good work, India must be wary of him. When on song, Hoàng is one of the better players on the opposition roster.

Venue

UM Arena Stadium is the college stadium of the University Malaya, and has hosted continental tournaments in the past as well. Circum-circled by running tracks like most stadiums in India, the UM Arena is set to give a home feel to the Indian squad. The match will begin 6:15 PM IST. 

What To Expect

Vietnam are the dark-horse in the group and the Indian side will need to be wary of them, to ensure a smooth passage to the next round. The job at hand is to ensure a solid defence, with India expected to fire all guns blazing. Vietnam, meanwhile, will soak pressure and look to hit on the counter. Expect goals from both sides, with India using the flanks more and Vietnam going forward centrally. 

Published: Thu Sep 20, 2018 03:36 PM IST

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