The Blue Colts had a near flawless campaign on home soil but there is much growing still to do.
28 goals in five games and a title to top up the effort talks about a team that sleepwalked over its opponents, and in phases, the phrase just fits apt. The India U-15 team was at its menacing best during the U-15 SAFF Championship recently held at the Kalyani Stadium in Kolkata, ripping apart everything that came its way.
Bibiano Fernandes has created a reputation for being a fair groomer of young talents, and the recently concluded tournament will only add to the growing feather. The India youth coach took his bar a notch higher and it remains to be seen how this batch of teenagers perform at the continental level, if they manage to qualify for the same like their predecessors.
India scored seven times in the final against local rivals Nepal to lift the title for the third time. Sridarth Nongmeikapam scored a hattrick in the final to add his name to the burgeoning list of talents that made their presence felt during the tournament in which Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and India participated. All games were played at the Kalyani Stadium in West Bengal.
Sridarth looked a little dull in the first 45, but in the second half, the forward stepped up. He was well supported by No. 10 Maheson Singh, probably India’s most influential player throughout the tournament. The tournament, though, belonged to Himangshu Jangra, who scored two hattricks and added another one in the final to lift the Player of the Tournament trophy.
Shubho Paul, too, deserves a mention, as the youngster from West Bengal was expected to make the stage his own. He somehow flattered to deceive and at times, was plain unlucky. He did not look in the rhythm synonymous to him and that probably took away an edge from his game. The boy at times, though, displayed his ability on the ball and was sound positionally, contributing ample even off the ball.
Aman Kumar, under the bar, gave a good account of him, and looked assured whenever a challenge came his way. Mohit Singh Dhami, too, looked secure, but was jittery at times and needs to work on his positioning a little. Anish Mazumdar, the captain of the team, led from the front and made sure no inroad was capable of breaching his watertight ability to soak space. The youngster can be expected to grow into a positive leader.
India’s No. 8 Satvik Sharma, too, had some tremendous outings. The burly-built midfielder gave opposition midfielders a difficult time moving forward and was a nemesis during long balls. His transition will be interesting to watch and how he adds more ball-playing to the physical aspect will be an interesting trajectory.
The team is heading to the AFC U-16 qualifiers, in a group comprising Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Turkmenistan. The matches start on September 18, and India face Turkmenistan in the opening encounter of the group. If the team continues to carry the momentum, it looks favorably smooth for India to qualify for successive AFC U-16 Championship that will take place in 2020. At the moment, the man of the moment is Bibiano Fernandes, who will have his task cut out against better, stronger and faster opponents later this month.