The Indian youngsters remained the team to beat throughout the event and duly capped off the campaign after coming from behind to win the showpiece.
The SAFF U-15 Championships 2017 turned out to be a highly entertaining tournament which saw India U-15 lifting the trophy aloft at the end. In what was a football extravaganza for the fans in Nepal, the competition probably exceeded expectations and delivered entertainment like never before. The tournament saw some great matches and an unprecedented 51 goals being scored in only 10 matches as the young boys from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan really put up a fantastic showing throughout the course of the event.
The Blue Tigers began the tournament with a blast in Group A where they absolute destroyed Maldives in a 9-0 thrashing which saw the young guns showing their maximum potential on the pitch. A hat-trick from Ravi Bahadur Rana inspired this dominating showcase which set out many positives for the team. But the next battle would be a difficult one against Nepal, who had also won their first match in comprehensive fashion and posed a real threat to India. But the Young Tigers dominated the hosts on their own turf, winning the match and topping the group with a 2-1 success spearheaded by a fantastic performance from captain Vikram Pratap Singh.
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Meanwhile, in Group B, Bangladesh asserted their dominance by defeating Sri Lanka and Bhutan 4-0 and 3-0 respectively with their attack looking absolutely menacing. India went onto face Bhutan in the semi-finals in what turned out to be an easy victory where Vikram Pratap Singh once again led from the front. But the other semi-final was a slobber-knocker as Nepal defeated Bangladesh 4-2 in what was a highly entertaining match because of both the teams being par on quality. Despite going out, Bangladesh had a lot to be proud off because of the exciting attacking football they displayed and they got a consolation in 3rd place and seeing midfielder Foysal get the highest goal-scorer award with 6 goals.
Team India faced a gigantic task in the final when they faced the hosts Nepal, who were beaming with confidence and were rallied on by their supporters. The Gorkhali’s draw first blood in the match through a goal from Birjesh Chaudhary, but the Blue Tigers came out a different side in the 2nd half where they utilized the tired legs of Nepal and scored two beautiful goals through Lalrokima and captain Vikram Pratap Singh, who despite having a quiet game came up with the good exactly when his team needed it.
The SAFF U-15 Champions was a memorable one for the Young Colts, who were marshaled superbly by coach Bibiano Fernandes who managed to get out the best from each and every player. The star of India’s triumphant tournament was captain Vikram Pratap Singh who scored 4 goals in the tournament and inspired the whole team with his game-play. He was the lone striker at many times but showed impeccable skill and trickery to fool the opposition’s defenders and scored some beautiful goals, one of which won India the tournament itself.
Ravi Bahadur Rana was another highly impressive individual as the winger had a real eye for goal and scored 4 goals as well while the electric winger Lalrokima was a constant menace for the opposition’s defenders because of his pace and movement. Givson Singh also showed great promise with his pinpoint free-kicks and commanded the midfield admirably, while Bekey Oram and Ricky John were vital as well.
India initially played a 4-4-2 formation mostly, but it saw the wingers drift into the middle with Oram often moving to stretched up the play and this confused many teams and was the thing which kept India ahead of the curve. Ravi and Lalrokima loved to drift in to take a chance at goal, while the wing-backs in the impressive Gukrirat Singh and Samir Kerketta provided proper cover and attacking threat in the wings as well. Harpreet Singh, too, played some eye-catching football in the defensive frame.
QUICK STATS FOR U-15 Indian Football Team:
Games played: 4
Goals scored: 16
Goals conceded: 2 (both from the penalty spot)
Highest Scorer: Vikram Pratap Singh and Vijay Bahadur Rana (4)
Clean Sheets: 2 (Against Maldives and Bhutan)
Vikram Pratap was the heart of the team as he was involved in almost every attack and was a legitimate threat on the counter-attack because of his pace and where-with-all, helping the Blue Tigers score numerous goals on the counter. His impressive work throughout the tournament also saw India’s captain be named as the Player of the Tournament at the end.
The Hosts Nepal showed some really impressive football throughout the tournament through their tricky striker Darshan Gurung and Akash Budha Magar. But even they couldn’t cope up with India’s terrific defense which saw some changes throughout the tournament but kept solid whenever it was switched. Goalkeeper Jongte was great between the posts but didn’t have to do much, thanks to his sturdy defense ahead of him.
India’s journey in the SAFF U-15 Championships, Nepal, 2017
All in all, it was a tournament where almost every team should have their head held high because of the exciting football they provided in the 10 day period in Nepal. In the end, Team India turned out to be just too good for the others as they had an impressive style of game-play throughout the course of the tournament and showed the resurgence and passion to go all the way to life the trophy high after the finale.
The journey doesn’t end here for the Young Colts, as the Indian U-15 team will now focus on what is going to be a crucial September for them. Bibiano Fernandes‘ side travels to Qatar for an exposure tour where they will face the Qatar U-15 national team in a couple of matches on September 3rd, before lining up for the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers from September 20th or 24th. The Blues have been put in a difficult group alongside Iraq, Palestine, and Nepal but knowing the momentum gathered from the big achievement of winning the SAFF U-15 Championships, the Young Colts will head to the qualifiers with a lot of intent.