The feet feel hard, maybe even a bit stiff. After three matches in five days, the engines need to be recharged even for 14 year olds. A strong Kuwait U-16 stays the next challenge.
Once in the lift and all alone, Kharlukhi Kyntiew queries: “Will we qualify if we beat Kuwait?” The equation is simple – a win against Kuwait will propel India to the Final Phase of the U-16 AFC Qualifiers to be held next year.
Can India U-16 boys, U-15 to be precise, beat Kuwait? Head Coach Goutam Ghosh feels no Team is unbeatable. “Anyone can beat anyone on a given day. I have told my boys to be positive and give their best. No Team is unbeatable.”
All India Football Federation’s Regional Academy boys take inspiration from their 1-1 draw against the Gulf Champions United Arab Emirates. In a Friendly match ahead of the Championship the India U-16 boys were held to a 1-1 draw by UAE U-17 Team. Besides being the Gulf Champions, the UAE boys would be playing in the U-17 World Cup next month. Kuwait had finished sixth in the Gulf Championship.
“We have watched some matches of Kuwait. We need to be prepared for them and try to break them,” Ghosh states. “But they are a very good Team comprising of some very high quality Players.”
The mood among the boys stays positive. At the morning Video Session, they sit together, listen and even raise their hands to narrate their own observations about the rivals.
“Playing three matches in five days, that too on a big ground as Ali Sabah Al-Salem Stadium is difficult. And most of our rival Teams have had the physical advantage over us,” Ghosh pronounces.
However, the staff run around 24×7 — proper rest, proper food and fluid intake is being stressed upon. And physio Soumya Rout’s room stays the most crowded one, all the niggles have to be attended to. “We need to boost them up, both mentally and physically.”
Memories come back – the memories previous to the last match against Tajikistan in the 2011 U-16 AFC Qualifiers in Tashkent. India U-16 needed a victory at that time to sail through to the Final Phase of the AFC Championship, a feat which they had achieved. Two years later, it’s the same.
The Table says that Kuwait has 9 points from 3 matches while India has 7 from three matches. So while a draw stays enough for Kuwait, India desperately need a victory. Tajikistan, the third Team on the points table have 4 points to their tally from three matches. As per AFC Rules the Group winner gets an automatic qualification while the five best second placed Teams from the 10 different Groups sail through.
The interest among the NRIs in Kuwait stay inspirational. India’s Ambassador to Kuwait had paid a visit to the Indian Dressing Room prior to the match against Bhutan; and after the match, Mr. Vinod Kumar Tiwari, Director, International Relations, Olympic Council of Asia, walked up and congratulated the kids. It was a sight to see the kids being mobbed by many as they were boarding the bus.
The Heartbeats run faster, the excitement doesn’t allow you to sit at one place for long. The next 90 minutes will be the decider.
The kick-off on Sunday is at 22.30 IST (20.00 local time | 19.00 CET | 18.00 GMT).
(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)