From winning the SAFF U-15 Championship a month ago to defeating the Qatar U-16 National Team on their own soil, the Indian U-16 national side have been hogging the limelight for all the right reasons. The test is even bigger now as they are slated to lock horns with defending champions Iraq, a strong Palestine and hosts Nepal in the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers at Kathmandu.
A day prior to the campaign opener against Palestine at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu, coach Bibiano Fernandes, in an interview spoke at length about the opponents, exposure trip to Qatar and much more.
What will be your message to the boys before the AFC Qualifier kicks off?
Boys are thriving to show their worth on the bigger stage and now it’s time to showcase their talent. The SAFF Championship has been a golden chapter but it’s history now. We strongly believe that we have the ability to qualify for the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 on merit. The stage is set, planning has been immaculate so far, now we have to be just and hit the target with utmost precision.
Recently your team have won the SAFF U-15 Championship in Nepal. Will it give you any psychological advantage during the AFC Qualifiers?
We need to keep it in mind that AFC is a completely different ball-game from SAFF Championship. At the same time, I believe that our boys are all set to give it a go. Yeah, it always makes you confident when you go back to the SAFF Championship victory, but as I said, this is an entirely different level.
India have been clubbed against heavyweight Iraq, Palestine and hosts Nepal.
We remember Iraq’s all-round performance in Goa when they triumphed over the AFC U-16 Championship last year. But at the same time, they’ve to start from the scratch and so do we. We’re expecting a very physical challenge from Iraq and Palestine, not to forget Nepal as well who would be backed by a vociferous home crowd. With all due respect to all our opponents, I would like to mention that we won’t go down without a fight.
How much did the exposure trip to Qatar aid your plan?
I need to admit that it was a very good and beneficial camp. Our boys have proved their mettle against the Qatar National Team, the Al-Sadd U-16 Team, having won one match and drawn another. The exposure in Qatar will help us immensely and I need to thank AIFF for organising it for us.