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India U-16 team qualify “in their own right”

India U-16 national team

India U-16 national team

It was in May 2014 that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had expressed to Asian Football Confederation (AFC) its interest to host the AFC U-16 Championship Finals in 2016.

The AIFF felt that the Championship would serve as a precursor before India host the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. It was also felt that the AFC U-16 Finals, besides helping the Indian team gain valuable competitive experience will also simultaneously help in evaluating the organizational abilities of the venue.

And when in June 2015, the AIFF officially won the bid to host the AFC U-16 Championship Finals, the hosts automatically qualified to the Finals.

But perhaps, the current India U-16 squad, presently in preparation for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup felt it best to qualify on merit.

Courtesy India’s thumping victories over Bahrain (5-0) and Lebanon (6-0) India finished on six points (and finished second) from Group E and in the process qualified as one of the second best placed teams from across eleven groups.

Put in simple terms it means that had not the AFC U-16 Championship Finals be hosted by India in 2016, India would have still qualified as one of the teams in the Championship. But as India are the hosts, Nepal qualify in their place.

AIFF Technical Director Scott O’Donell is all smiles over the achievement.

“It is extremely satisfying that the boys have qualified in their own right for the AFC U-16 Championships next year. Credit must go to Nicolai and his staff for preparing the boys so well. The second half of the game against Lebanon was especially satisfying because we absolutely dominated, played some great football and scored some good goals. I was very proud of the boys and their performance,” he told AIFF Media.

But at the same time, O’Donell mentioned to the fans not to get “carried away.”

“Don’t get carried away. It is still early days. There is a long way to go and while it is great that the supporters are happy (and rightly so), it is important that we remain grounded and continue to support the boys,” he stated.

“They are young boys and there will be some hiccups along the way but I liked what I saw in Tabriz. The boys are totally committed and focussed, as are the staff,” he echoed.

The colts had come into the Qualifiers on the back of an exposure trip to Germany wherein they played against the Youth Teams of top German and Austrian clubs.

The performance had also come in for huge praise from rival coaches in the Championship.

While Abdulsaheb Abdulnabi, Head Coach of the Bahrain U-16 Team had admitted that, “India were strong in all departments and surprised and destroyed us on the field;” the Lebanese Coach, Gholam Ghader had gone a little further and had stated: “India were the best team in the group. They were fitter and were better on everything, tactically much superior.”

(Report & Photo courtesy AIFF Media)