The AIFF U-16 Regional Academy Boys demolished every dictum which reflects the complacent nature of India in Football. The U-16 team, infused with talent, started their International Youth Tournament with a bang. The International Youth Tournament is divided into two parts, for U-17s (B-Juniors) and U-19s (A-Juniors). There were eight teams which took part in the inaugural event, the AIFF U-16 Boys being one of them.
The format of U-17s section was an eight team affair divided into groups of two, each group consisting four teams. The positions are often determined by the cross finals for the places of 1st to 8th . This essentially meant that top two teams faced each other in a crisscross manner with winners playing in the final and losers in a third-fourth place clash. The matches were of 50 minutes’ duration and only 15 minutes were added for the final, the rest decided by penalties after the 50 minute mark.
The ‘Boys in Blue’ started with a win against Spanish Side, Deportivo Saint Maickol U-17. The Indian side showed signs of brilliance and were able to keep up with the physical fitness of their Spanish counterparts. The winner was scored late into normal time by Nijwm Muchahary. Resisting waves of Spanish attacks, the Blue boys managed to hold on to a 1-0 win.
The next fixture was against Dutch 1st Division side, SBV Excelsior U-17. In another extraordinary match, the U-16 boys managed to dominated a Dutch side which is known for its exciting play. The winner came from a penalty kick, four minutes from time as Bedashwor Singh was tripped inside the box. Prosenjit Chakroborty slotted a cool and calm penalty right into the corner, sending the keeper in the opposite way. The match ended in a 1-0 win to the Indian side.
Perhaps the most crucial match was against defending champions, Volendam U-17 who had decimated their opponents in the group 5-1 and 6-0. The match started with Volendam taking the lead, but soon it was cancelled out by a brilliant Surya Tirkey goal, after an exquisite Anirudh Thapa pass. 15 minutes after cancelling the lead, the boys in blue came back from behind and took the lead via Bedashwor Singh. The hardworking Indian contingent kept the Dutch champions at bay for the rest of the match, but after a series of Dutch attacks, the reigning champions equalized in extra time, drawing the match 2-2.
After being undefeated for three matches against top opponents, the AIFF U-16 Boys finished second in their group. This would mean a semi-final clash against Israeli side, Maccabi Tel Aviv U-17. The Israelis topped their group after thrashing their opponents 7-0 and ekeing out a 1-1 draw against AZ Alkamar. A win in this fixture would lead the Indians all the way to the final, whereas a loss would drive them into the third-fourth place fixture. In a pulsating and physical game, the ‘Boys in Blue’ lost 1-0 to Tel Aviv U-17, after a dubious penalty decision. The boys showed their steel and skill matching the Israelis in almost every aspect of the game.
A loss in the semi-final, meant a third-fourth place tie against Dutch Side, AZ Alkamar. The AIFF U-16 boys equalized in the added time after an exciting run by Edmund Lalrindika to set up Bodo with the finish. The match finished 1-1 and penalties were to decide the third spot for both the teams. The Indians lost 2-4 after a masterclass of penalties by the Dutch side. Losing meant that India had to settle for a fourth place finish in the International Youth Tournament.
The Indian fairy-tale ended, clouded with heartbreak and dismay, but it left trail of optimism in its wake. The dictum of Indians being poor at the beautiful game was quite easily dismantled by these young players. Although new to the European climate and pitches, the Indians faired quite well and will have plenty to learn from with this experience. Players like Anirudh Thapa, can very well groom into one of the best defensive midfielders in the country. His untired running and an eye for a pass proved vital in the Indian fairytale. All in all, the AIFF U-16 Regional boys played 5 matches, won 2, drew 1 and lost 2, scoring 5 goals and conceding 4 in the process. This tour has certainly given the much needed exposure to U-16 boys and with friendlies upcoming against Schalke 04, one can only hope that the team would evolve in their quest for glory.