THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

AFC U16 Championship: Tough Chinese challenge for India

India U16

First things first! Many of us find it a cliché when we say: ‘Indian football is on the right track.’ Well, you are free to have your own mind.

The ‘cliché’ that Indian Football has gone through in the last few years make India stand a win away from a possible quarterfinal spot in the AFC U-16 Championship. You can also call it the U-16 Asian Cup! For a Nation ranked 32nd in Asia, if that isn’t promising enough, what else is? Obviously, you are free to have your own mind.

India take on China in their last Group D match on Thursday (September 27). As things stand at the moment, a win against China will take India (presently on one point from two matches) to four points and a possible spot in the last eight unless Syria (two points from two matches) beat Uzbekistan (four points from two matches). China stay on two points from two matches.

There were quite a few Iranian scouts who had come to watch India play Syria the other afternoon. “You are such an organised side, one of the very few sides with such organisation in this Championship. I’m a regular to most of the matches and I say what I see,” an Iranian scout walked up and had maintained during the interval.

He didn’t lie. The white-haired man, for whom a seat in the shaded dugout seems to be a taboo, Colm Joseph Toal’s most used word stays: “Hold.”

The midfielders ‘hold’ their rivals, the back four, who have been exceptional in the first two matches, ‘hold’ the rivals too and even the two upfront, have to perform the task.

“Hold your opponent. Hold him and your teammate will get that extra second to recover,” Toal stresses in the team meeting. The boys listen with their eyes open.

Away from the madding crowd, Toal has been working with the age-group boys at the National Training Centre in Goa, day in and out for the last six years. And he hates being a headline. His commitment has stayed the headline to his boys, his support staff and the AIFF.

Ask him and as he smiles, he tries to dribble past it. So we thought it best to blow the trumpet ourselves. The benefits that have emerged out of the National Training Centre over the last six years stay simple. Today Indian age-group teams stay competitive enough as the players have gone on to graduate and play for the Senior National Team. Seven players from Toal’s batches have already played for India while 90 percent of them for the Olympic Team and everyone in the I-League.

“China come into the match against us with two very good performances (draws against Syria and Uzbekistan). I have watched them play and they are a good team who have some very good individual players,” Toal speaks.

His rival Chinese counterpart Su Mozahen informs: “Our goal is to qualify for the U-17 World Cup and play good football in the process. We are here with a purpose like all other Chinese teams in any sport.”

“It will be a big test for us as it would be for any Indian Team against any Chinese team. I hope the boys have enough left in the tank and be able to raise their performance in the last Group League match,” Toal adds. “It’s creditable for us to be in this situation and we have a realistic chance of making it to the quarterfinals.”

Indeed it is! Had those two decisions in the Uzbek match been on India’s side, the story could have been different today. First, striker Daniel Lalhimpuia was kicked by the rival goalkeeper inside the box (corroborated by replays) but the referee had felt Daniel had dived; and had not stopper Sajid Dhot slipped, making the referee to feel that he had pushed the rival striker which eventually turned out to be a penalty against India.

But that is past and all ‘part of the game.’ Every team needs to move on and the Indians, too, have.

You start searching the record books – When did India last beat China? People live ninety years, the Indian U-16 Team will be fighting for the next 90 minutes – a match away from the quarterfinal spot in the AFC U-16 Championship and two matches away from a possible spot in the U-17 World Cup!

First things first! Many of us find it a cliché when we say: ‘Indian football is on the right track.’ Well, you are free to have your own mind.

(AIFF Press Release / Written by Nilanjan Datta)