INDIAN COLTS ‘AS READY AS’ EVER FOR AFC U-16 CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIERS

NEW DELHI: “We are ready as ever,” India U-16 National Coach Bibiano Fernandes, India U-16 National Team coach Bibiano Fernandes said on the U-16 team’s arrival in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Saturday (September 14) for the forthcoming AFC U-16 Qualifiers.

India have been clubbed with hosts Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Bahrain in Group B in the qualifiers, and first play Turkmenistan on September 18. Bibiano’s boys are currently on an 11-match winning streak, that extends from their tour of Thailand, to the SAFF Championship, and down to the two friendlies they played in Turkey, earlier this week.

“The team is as ready as ever for the AFC Qualifiers. We have all been preparing for these three matches for months now. We have our sights set firmly on them,” Bibiano stated after the team landed in Tashkent.

The 42-year-old believes that apart from playing in an invitational tournament (Torneo Del Nazioni) in Italy, and the two exposure tours in Thailand and Turkey, the Blue Colts also gained valuable experience of playing competitive International matches in the SAFF U-15 Championship last month.

“We have had a good preparation for the tournament over the last couple of months. The SAFF Championship certainly gave the boys good experience of International football, whereas we faced some tough opponents in Turkey. So all in all, it has been a was a good rehearsal.”

In regards to acclimatising in Uzbekistan, the head coach feels the boys would not have any issues in adjusting to the conditions after playing in the harsh weather back in Kalyani, West Bengal.

“I don’t think the weather in Uzbekistan would be much of an issue. It is basically optimum temperature here. Back home it’s much humid. So it isn’t much of an issue for us,” Bibiano continued.

Bibiano, who had guided the previous batch of India U-16 Boys to the AFC U-16 Championship quarterfinals (India’s joint-best finish in the tournament), will be aiming to qualify once again, as they go about their business one game at a time.

“Our main objective is to go game-by-game and qualify for the AFC U-16 Championship next year. If we stick to the plan, keep our heads down, and play our football, I believe that we can make it to yet another AFC U-16 Championship Final,” he quipped.

India’s fixtures in the AFC U-16 qualifiers stay as follows:

September 18: India vs Turkmenistan (IST 4.30pm).

September 20: Bahrain vs India (IST 4.30pm).

September 22: India vs Uzbekistan (IST 4.30pm).

The 23-member squad for the AFC U-16 Qualifiers is as follows:

GOALKEEPERS: Aman Kumar Saini, Mohit Singh Dhami, Ayush Deshwal.

DEFENDERS: Paogoumang Singson, Shameek Caine Vas, Ranjan Soren, Amandeep, Pritam Meetei Sorokhaibam, Anish Mazumder, Halen Nongtdu.

MIDFIELDERS: Satvik Sharma, Sibajit Singh Leimapokam, Maheson Singh Tongbam, Renedy Meitei Yumnam, Aula Siba Prasad, Taison Singh Loitongbam, Ratanbi Singh Chaphamayum, Yoihenba Meitei Sukham, Amosa Lalnundanga.

FORWARDS: Himanshu Jangra, Sridarth Nongmeikapam, Shubho Paul, Isac Zomuanpuia.