The Blue Colts have achieved something considered impossible only a short while ago with their recent performances.
An Indian team has defeated Jordan 4-0, Iraq 1-0 and Yemen 3-0 in the same tournament. The same side was leading against Japan, but lost 2-1 at the final whistle. Yes, we are not talking about Indian aspirations. It has indeed happened.
The India U-16 side, coached by former Goan player Bibiano Fernandes, has achieved all of this at the recently-concluded WAFF U-16 Championship. With the AFC U-16 Championship to be held from September 20 – October 7 in Malaysia, the boys seem to be working on the right path.
Let’s talk about the WAFF Cup 2018 a little, the tournament where India has achieved such feats and then we will move on to the AFC tournament.
U-16 West Asian Football Federation Championship
The Indian team scored nine times, with everyone chipping in. From forward Rohit Danu to Captain Vikram Pratap Singh and from defender Harpreet Singh to playmaker Bekey Oram, every player has taken responsibility in the side.
The team usually lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with inter-positional play a property of their style. The boys and the coach knew full well that mistakes will occur and thus, every lad in the team was pushed to the hilt. The pressing was impressive and the pair of Thoiba Moirangthem and Harpreet had the heart of defence watertight.
In the midfield, Ricky John and Oram managed to keep things ticking well. Oram, a #8 in this side, had been accorded with freedom and in tow with #10 Givson Singh Moirangthem, is one of the key elements of the side.
Heralded as one of the better talents in Indian football, Rohit Danu continued to plunder goals and was also the player to have been the centre of most attacks for India. Regular Captain Vikram Pratap Singh also scored aplenty and added a hat-trick to his name against Jordan. Singh has also played on the right wing and as a #10, showing his versatility.
Watch: India’s all goals in 2018 WAFF U-16 Championship
Ridge Demello should not go unmentioned, having done a good job down the left flank regularly. The Santa Cruz boy is always a threat with the ball at his feet and looked positively motivated under the tutelage of Fernandes.
Fernandes, meanwhile, has made sure the boys play the ball on the ground. There is no or very little selfishness in the squad, with everyone looking happy with the success, even the players at the bench. The young forwards have interchanged passes well and the neat interchanges in the midfield show that India have a secure future, if they continue their growth well.
Under the bar, Niraj Kumar has not been a pushover. Challenged well by Lalbiakhlua Jongte, Kumar is expected to start in most games after faring well against the West Asian countries. Thoiba Moirangthem always looks composed on the ball and is a treat to watch.
Conclusively, Fernandes has created a side that can excite, be disciplined and deliver. Let’s move on to the continental stage.
2018 AFC U-16 Championship
India are in Group C, also featuring Vietnam, Indonesia and runners-up Iran. Knowing full well the quality of the side, India have a fair chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, having already drawn goalless against Iran during the qualifying stages of the competition. In retrospect, India were lacking three main players due to injuries, with frontliner Danu one of them.
The team need to understand that winning is a mentality and they have it in them. Coach Fernandes must work on the positives and should minimize the space between midfield and defense, an area that the opposition has looked to exploit against the Blue Colts. Lalchhanhima Sailo can be a viable option for reducing the space, but in turn will hinder India’s attacking numbers.
Wing-wise, India look secure. The pair of Shabas Ahammed and Manish Chaudhary have done fairly well defensively, but need to cross the ball more. Both Danu and Pratap Singh are good headers of the ball and India can have another option to unlock defences, if the full-backs start marauding forward and crossing the ball into the box.
“We are extremely proud of them. They came up with a superlative performance today and executed it to perfection. The tournament has helped us gauge where we stand and we go back much richer in experience,” coach Fernandes said after the victory over Yemen, but he knows that his team still needs that one decisive lesson before the tournament begins.
If India qualify for the semi-finals of the AFC U-16 Championship, they will qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, on merit and not on the basis of hosting the tournament. This will be a major, major boost to Indian football that was recently questioned by senior team head coach Stephen Constantine, well, with him being subjectively right.
Can this team prove the Englishman wrong?