Indian age-group teams have made a name for themselves at the continental level and while the senior national team has struggled to win matches away from home, the U-16 and U-19 teams have notched up some impressive results with the performance in AFC U-16 Championship last year being the pinnacle. The boys who participated in the AFC U-16 Championship have graduated to the U-19 level and a new set of players travelled to Nepal to participate in the SAFF U-16 Championship.
Pre-Tournament Preparation And The Team
The India U-16 team was training at the AIFF Regional Academy situated at the Pailan School in Kolkata under the guidance of head coach Goutam Ghosh and Technical Director Scott O’Donell. The team played a host of matches against some senior teams and before departing for the SAFF Championship, the team won six consecutive matches. The team won against Prayag United U-19, East Bengal U-19, Khidderpore FC Senior Team, Bidhanagar Academy and Uttarpara Academy before thumping Mohun Bagan’s U-18 Goalz Project Team 18-0 in the final match. The team for the SAFF U-16 tournament stayed as follows
Goalkeepers: Anuj Kumar (Uttar Pradesh), Subrata Das (West Bengal), M Dheeraj Singh (Manipur)
Defenders: M Jayananda Singh (Manipur), Jerry Lalrinzuala (Mizoram), T Kishan Singh (Manipur), Prosenjit Chakraborty (West Bengal), Amit Tudu (West Bengal), Nuruddin (Uttar Pradesh), Amey Ranawade (Maharashtra)
Midfielders: Bodo Baoringdao (Assam), Kyntiew Kharlukhi (Meghalaya), Surya Tirkey (Jharkhand), Zonunmawia (Mizoram), Anirudh Thapa (Uttarakhand), Deependra Singh Negi (Uttarakhand), Aaron Rodrigues (Goa), Chanmitre Thma (Meghalaya)
Forwards: Laishram Bedashwor Singh (Manipur), Sourav Chakraborty (West Bengal), Edmund Lalrindika (Mizoram), Krishna Pandit (Chandigarh), Mohammed Hasil (Kerala).
Most of the players in the team are not new to continental tournamnets having participated in the SAARC U-14 Football event in Japan last year where they held highly-rated Japan Football Association Academy to a 1-1 draw. India U-16 team is also scheduled to participate in the AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers later this year and the SAFF U-16 Championship offered the team a perfect opportunity to gauge its progress and before departing for the tournament, coach Goutam Ghosh echoed the same thoughts and said
“The SAFF Championships are a great opportunity for us to study our progress. At this age, more than winning, such exposure is more important. I am glad that the boys have got it and we are raring to go. We have been preparing for the Tournament since April this year and have played some Friendlies too. We want to lap up this opportunity and give the boys a feel of a Tournament.”
Group Stage Review
India, who finished runners-up in the last edition of the tournament after losing to arch-rivals Pakistan in the final were drawn in group B along with Sri-Lanka and Bangladesh. The group was reduced to three teams after Maldives pulled out of the event.
India kicked off its campaign on 21st against Sri-Lanka and defeated the island nation 4-1. The Indian clots started brightly and created a number of chances with the Lankans preferring to sit back and defend. Captain and striker Krishna Pandit and midfielder Bedashwor Singh were in the thick of things right from the start and were creating trouble for opposition defenders. It was skipper Krishna Pandit who gave India the lead on 21st minute which was then doubled by Bedashwor Singh two minutes later. India were clearly the better of two sides with Sri-Lanka failing to test the Indian goalkeeper until the 30 minute mark. The island nation however pulled one back just on the stroke of half time.
The second half was a similar story with India pressing right from the start and the boys were rewarded for their efforts when Prosenjit Chakroborty scored a spectacular goal from 25 yards out to make it 3-1. Pandit was proving too much to handle for the Lankan defenders and around the 75th minute mark he dribbled past three defenders and the goalkeeper but his effort was saved. Bedashwor Singh scored his second in the 90th minute to wrap up the match 4-1 in favor of India
India played its second match four days later against Bangladesh who had defeated Sri-Lanka 3-1 in their first match. Bangladesh’s win over Sri-Lanka also meant that both India and Bangladesh had qualified for the semi-finals. Putting in a clinical display , the Indian boys defeated their Bangladeshi counterparts 2-0 with the goals coming in the either half. After a quiet start to the game, it was India who started to control the pace. The Indians had a lion’s share of possession but failed to break Bangladeshi defense. It was striker Bedashwor Singh who broke the deadlock with a tremendous free-kick that earned a special mention from coach Goutam Ghosh after the match.
The second half saw India create more chances as Bangladesh looked clueless. Bangladesh keeper Pappu denied Indian skipper Krishna Pandit on two occasions while Prosenit Chakroborty’s long ranger missed the goal by a whisker. An unmarked Pandit however scored the second goal in the injury time to seal the win for team India. Goutam Ghosh was happy after after the match and said
“I am happy with the way my boys played today. I have maintained that rectifying our mistakes stays the aim, and the boys did that. We kept possession better than the first match and switched flanks well too.”
India will take on Afghanistan in the semi-finals on the with Bangladesh taking on Nepal in the other semi-final. Nepal finished top of the group A with 7 points while Afghanistan had 5 points. The lads from Afghanistan are physically stronger and it will be interesting to see how the Indian team fares against them. Defending champions Pakistan have already been knocked out of the tournament which means a new champion will be crowned in the second edition of SAFF U-16 Championship. As for India , the expectations are high given the team’s pre-tournament preparations and the wins in the group stages.