India U16 is all set to take part in AFC U16 Championship Qualifying Round in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A number of players in the U16 squad are trained in IMG Academy and finished runner-up in 2011 SAFF Cup.
India has previously qualified for main tournament in 2008, 2004, 2002, 1996, and 1990. The best performance came in 2002 edition when India defeated Myanmar and drew with UAE to reach quarter-final before bowing out against South Korea.
Goalkeepers: Avinash Rao, Agiapal Singh, Supratim Bhattacharya
The lineup of goalkeepers remains unchanged from SAFF Cup. Agiapal was initially the starting ‘keeper in Nepal but was replaced by Supratim later on. Supratim is a relative of ex-India goalkeeper and member of Asian All Stars XI Atanu Bhattacharya. He was brilliant in SAFF Cup semi-final against Nepal and saved two spot kicks in that game.
Defenders: Myron Mendes, Maiban Jimmy Singh, Suman Shah, Sajid Dhot, Sarthak Golui, Rahul S, Nabin Rabha, Gurba Gagri
The defence also contains almost every player who made the trip to Kathmandu. Indian defence was not water tight in SAFF Cup. Against fitter and stronger West Asian teams, Indian defenders need to improve their game. Central defender Mohammad Sajid was impressive in the group stages of SAFF Cup but his form deserted him in knock out stages. Myron Mendes’ overlaps were one of the brightest spots for U16 team but the lad needs to improve his defending as a fullback.
Midfielders: Alen Deory, Harmanjot Singh, Nitin Jyal, Germanpreet Singh, K Lalramzuava, Lalrammuana, Raja Rawat, Geremsha Basumatary.
Hailing from Dehradun, Raja Rawat was arguably the best player for India in Nepal. He assisted as well as scored goals and was praised for his ability to cut back from the wings. Defensive medio Germanpreet Singh will have a tough task at hand when he squares off against the midfielders from Uzbekistan or Bahrain.
Forwards: Kamalpreet Singh, Daniel Lalhimpuia, Laldantsanga, Uttam Rai
Indian midfielders created a lot of chances in SAFF Cup but were often let down by poor finishing from Sanga and Daniel. In AFC qualifiers India will be bolstered by the return of Uttam Rai, perhaps the most talented player in this age bracket. Uttam boasts of an impressive record of scoring 31 goals in 3 editions of Subrata Cup that he participated. He was also selected for trials in Swiss club Grasshoppers FC for his talent and was awarded as “best offensive player” by IMG Academy. Laldanta Sanga, who scored two goals against Maldives in SAFF Cup is likely to partner Uttam in a 4-4-2 formation.
Coach Thomas Joseph had this to say before the team left for Uzbekistan –“We have a good team and we have practiced hard for the event. Uzbekistan are the hosts and stay the strong contenders. I’d say we have a 50-50 chance.”
India is placed in Group C along with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bahrain and Kyrgyzstan. The toughest team in this group will undoubtedly be the hosts, Uzbekistan. Uzbek football is undergoing a renaissance of sorts – the senior team finished 4th in Asian Cup last year while the U17 team reached quarter final of FIFA U17 World Cup after beating Australia and Czech Republic. The Uzbeks finished runner-up in 2010 edition of AFC U16 championship and will be the clear favourites.
Bahrain U16 team finished third in their group in 2010 qualifiers but narrowly missed out qualifying for the main tournament. Tajikistan U16 did qualify for the main tournament in 2010 finishing level on points with Iran in qualifiers. They didn’t fare well in AFC Championship and went home after finishing last in group stages. Tajikistan performed brilliantly in 2006 AFC U16 Championship and finished 3rd. India U16 played Kyrgyzstan in 2010 qualifiers, the match ending in a 0-0 draw.
While getting a point against Uzbekistan is improbable, India does have a good chance of matching other teams in their group. India can take courage from the performance of fellow SAFF nation Afghanistan. The war torn nation finished third in Group B and can still qualify for the main round depending on how the third placed team in Group C performs. The top two teams in Group C qualify directly for AFC U16 Championship while third placed team can also qualify.
Fixture (All times in IST)
Oct 1: India vs Krygyzstan 4.30pm
Oct 3: India vs Bahrain 4.30pm
Oct 5: Uzbekistan vs India 12.00 pm
Oct 7: India vs Tajikistan 12.00 pm