The Federation Cup is on in full swing and clubs are battling it out for a spot in Asia but one event that is being talked about in the Indian Football circles is the AFC U-16 Championship to be held in Iran. The manner in which the team qualified last season, coupled with the performance U-22 team, has meant that the fans are keeping a close eye on these boys.
The Indian U-16 team which features the likes of Uttam Rai has been placed in group D along with Uzbekistan, Syria and China. TheHardTackle reviews the qualifying tournament and places the team under the microscope to analyze the various aspects of the team ahead of the tournament.
Qualifying Tournament Review
The AFC U-16 Qualifiers were held in Uzbekistan and the Indian group featured Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in addition to hosts Uzbekistan. India were the lowest ranked team in the group and no one gave this Indian team a chance to qualify. Uttam Rai inspired India however made their intentions clear in the very first match when they routed Kyrgyzstan 7-0 with Uttam scoring five goals. His striker partner Daniel Lalhlimpuia scored the other two as Indian started their campaign on a strong footing.
In the second match India edged Bahrain 2-1 after trailing their opponents 1-0 at half time. Winger Rawat levelled the score while full-back Myron Mendez scored from the spot to give India a hard-fought win. The tide however turned in the third match as the hosts Uzbek routed Indian team 9-0 with 6 of those coming in the first half itself. Thomas Joseph coached team was beginning to look tired.
Needing a win to qualify, the Indian team took on Tajikistan and defeated them 4-1 to qualify for the final round and bring smiles on the faces of the fans across the nation. Tajaks took the lead in the 16th minute but captain Lalramzuava equalized 10 mins later. Uttam Rai gave India 2-1 lead on the stroke of half time. Sarthak Golui and Daniel Lalhlimpuia scored in the second half to complete a memorable win for India.
The India U-16 team is largely the same squad that took part in the qualifiers. The team was based in Dubai ahead of the tournament. The current probable team is a mix of players that took part in the qualifiers and some other boys. With the final squad still to be announced, here is a look at the team that took part in the qualifiers
Goalkeepers: Avinash Rao, Agiapal Singh, Supratim Bhattacharya
Supratim Bhattacharya, a relative of ex-India goalkeeper and member of Asian All Stars XI Atanu Bhattacharya, gave a good account of himself in the qualifiers letting in only two goals if the match against Uzbeks is not considered and is expected to continue as the first choice keeper. Supratim was the hero in the SAFF Cup final when he saved two penalties against Nepal. He will be assisted by Avinash Rao and Agiapal Singh
Defenders: Myron Mendez, Maiban Jimmy Singh, Suman Shah, Sajid Dhot, Sarthak Golui, Rahul S, Nabin Rabha, Gurba Gagri
The defense will be led by attacking right full-back Myron Mendez who is definitely a man to watch out for. His overlapping runs have been an asset to the team. Sajid Dhot dished out a tremendous performance in SAFF Cup and will start in the center of defense. Sarthak Golui, who scored against Tajikistan in the final match, is likely to partner him at the back while Nabin Rabha will start on the left side of defense. The quartet of Myron, Sajid, Sarthak and Rabha started in almost all matches of qualifiers and will look to maintain a tight leash on the opponents.
Midfielders: Alen Deory, Harmanjot Singh, Nitin Jyal, Germanpreet Singh, K Lalramzuava, Lalrammuana, Raja Rawat, Geremsha Basumatary.
Left Winger Raja Rawat who comes from the city of Dehradun is the key player in Indian midfield and such has been impact that the Indian team was found to be lackluster in the match against Uzbekistan after Raja was suspended. Raja is all also the dead-ball specialist in the team. Captain Lalramzuava plays in the center of the park along-side and is likely to be assisted by Harmanjot Singh and Nitin Jyal. Alen Deory has been impressive in the time he has been at the IMG Academy and is likely to be used in the tournament.
Forwards: Kamalpreet Singh, Daniel Lalhimpuia, Laldantsanga, Uttam Rai
This is no doubt the strongest department in the Indian team with Uttam Rai and Daniel Lalhimpuia as the two front men. While Uttam has been a prolific scorer, Daniel’s off ball movements are quite good and make him difficult to mark and he is in fine form after he scored in both the matches agianst UAE.
Keep An Eye on : Daniel Lalhimpuia, Uttam Rai, Myron Mendes, Raja Rawat
The Build Up
Some of the boys of the U-16 team were based at the IMG Reliance Academy in Florida while the rest were training under Colm Toal in Goa. The boys based at Florida including Uttam Rai and Supratim Bhattacharya took part in the Dallas cup where Rai was named as one of the players to watch out for prior to the tournament. The boys played against the U-17 USA team and went down fighting 1-0. The Goa based players played out friendly matches against local clubs like Sporting Club de Goa. The Florida based boys joined the boys training in Goa on 1st June.
The Indian team then trained in Dubai from 1st September and in the first practice match defeated the U-17 team of the Al Kleejee Club 4-1 with Uttam Rai scoring a brace. Striker Laldantsanga and midfielder Lalramzuava scored one each as well.
On 11th September the Indian U-16 team squared off against their UAE couterparts and found themselves trailing in the 16th minute itself. The team fought back and equalized on 28th minute through striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia. UAE however scored again on 34th minute to wrap up the win. The teams clashed again on 14th and this time the Indian team went down 3-2. Daniel Lalhlimpuia gave India the lead but UAE came back and went into the breather leading 2-1. Alen Deroy reduced the deficit in the second half at the 75 minute mark but despite a spirited performance, the Indian colts went down. The number of goals India has conceded does remain a worry for coach Colm Toal.
Uzbekistan are surely but steadily developing into a powerhouse of Asian football and have traditionally done well in youth competitions. Syria on the other hand come into the event with their football in turmoil and pose little threat to the teams in the group. This makes it a toss-up between India and China for the second spot. The Chinese U-16 team participated in the Montaigu Tournament where they played tough European teams while the Uzbekistan team also warmed with a series of 3 friendly matches against the Thailand U-16 team. Uzbek striker Shohjahon Abbasov, who scored two hat-tricks in the qualifiers including four goals against India, stays the main threat.
23 September 2012 Uzbekistan v India
25 September 2012 India v Syria
27 September 2012 China v India
The Final Word
The age group Indian Football teams are slowly making a name for themselves in the Asian circuit. While the senior national team has struggled to win abroad, the U-16 and U-19 teams have upset the mighty Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon among others.Indian football fans will be hoping this trend continues in this tournament as well.
Live-stream of India vs Syria match can be available on Al-Jazzeria network