The Indian U-19 team finished its ‘exposure tour’ in Shanghai, beating the U-17 and U-16 Chinese team in the process. This would surely be a moral boost up for these young guns, before they go out for AFC U-19 qualifier in Doha in the first week of October. The tour, arranged by All India Football Federation, has really been utilized by the Indian Colts, and they finished the tour in style. The nucleus of the squad had represented India in the Final Phase of the AFC U-16 Competition in Tehran in 2011, where they had drawn 2-2 with the then U-16 China National Team and came agonizingly close to a quarterfinal berth.

India U-19 Squad

India U-19 Squad

The campaign didn’t start quite as well as the Indian fans would have liked. The U-19 National Team were held to a 2-2 draw by Shanghai City Games U-19 Team in the one-off Match in Shanghai on Monday (August 12, 2013). Daniel Lalhlimpuia scored both the goals for India in the first half. The Shanghai team, who have been preparing together for 3 years for the Chinese National City Games starting in September, came back from 2-0 down to score twice in the first essay itself. The Shanghai outfit had five China Internationals in their squad.

The next game gave the much required momentum to the Indian youngsters and they defeated China U-17 Team 4-0 at the Century Park Stadium, Shanghai on Saturday. All the goals were scored in the first half. Indian Stopper-back Mohd. Sajid Dhot opened the scoring in the 18th minute only for Lalrempuia Fanai to double the lead in the 25th minute. The third goal was scored by Udanta Singh in the 35th minute while striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia completed the rout in the 42nd minute.

Udanta Singh’s hat-trick helped the Indian U-19 National Team pumped in half a dozen goals past the China U-16 National Team in a Friendly Match played at the Century Park Stadium in Shanghai. India U-19 won 6-0. Daniel Lalhlimpuia opened the scoring in the 17th minute while Pawan Kumar doubled the lead some 11 minutes later as India went into the interval enjoying a two-goal advantage. The substitute Chinglensana Singh found himself scoring the third goal for the team in the 55th minute. Thereafter, Udanta Singh scored a hat-trick, scoring one each in quick succession at 61st, 77th and 89th minutes.

Indian football team’s performance drops exponentially with the increasing age group competitions. Indian U-16 team had a successful run in SAFF in last two editions of the tournament. Now it’s time for the U-19 team to keep the tri-colour high in AFC Championship Qualifier in Doha. Though Indian team had a decent outing at China, it must be remembered that they never got the chance to measure themselves against the team of same age group i.e. Chinese U-19 team. The Shanghai City team had some of the players from their national team, and the Indian colts faltered in the match.

The tour had its positives too. Players like Udanta Singh, Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Fanai Lalrempuia showed a lot of promise. The scoring boots of Udanta and Daniel proved to be satisfying for the teammates and would keep the hope alive for Indians. The I-League exposure came as encouragement for Fanai and Jacob, and they would like to extend their form the Doha as well. Lalrempuia became the youngest player to represent Pune FC in the I-League when he made his debut against Air India on April 14, 2013. The creative midfielder followed it up with a couple of appearances for the senior team against Air India (started) and Pailan Arrows (came on as a sub).

The coach, Englishman Colin Toal, has spent a decent amount of time with the boys and is expected to get the best out of the players.  The coach sounded confident with his team and is working tirelessly to build a strong and competitive Indian team. Though he accepted that scouting for talents in India is not an easy job, and it gets tougher with state academies not being helpful. Another concern for the British manager was “age-group cheating”, which paralyses the whole idea of finding and nurturing talents, and putting them in the squad for any kind of age-group limited competitions.

The young guns posses a lot of  skills and commitment to get the success at the big stage and the proper control on their adrenaline would mark the difference between them and the opponents. The team camped for over two months and are familiar with each other’s playing style and Toal got enough time to send his message to his team. The boys will be returning to India on the 22nd of August, and would continue to train in Elite Academy, Goa for another ten days.  They would get another opportunity to rectify their mistakes and close the loopholes when they leave for another exposure trip to Dubai. It will be a three week long final preparation camp for the boys before the U-19 AFC Qualifiers in Qatar.

The arrangement of these kind of tours can provide a lot of scope and exposure to the young players, and playing outside the comfort of the home ground makes the challenge even more interesting. The Indian outfits would require to match the levels of mighty Qatar in their first group league match, and playing against the host in an opener wouldn’t be easy for the boys in blues. This experience would keep the players confident and if things according to plan, Indian fans would surely get something to cheer for.