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India U-16s set for a month-long Asia tour ahead of AFC U-16 Championship

India U-16 National Team (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

The India U-16 national team will set out for a month-long three-nation excursion this July to China, Thailand and Malaysia. The Indian team will play 10-12 international ties, including 7 against U-16 national sides.

The July leg is marked as the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) final preparation of the Indian boys ahead of the AFC U-16 Championship scheduled to take place in Malaysia in September 2018.

The Indian colts, coached by Bibiano Fernandes have been training in Kolkata last five weeks since returning victorious from Serbia in May.

The 25-member squad and seven support staff will now leave for Weinan city, China on June 30, 2018 to participate in the four-nation invitational tournament alongside the U-16 national teams of DPR Korea, Thailand and host China. India open their campaign against China on 3rd July followed by matches against Thailand on 5th July, and DPR Korea on 7th July.

Bibiano’s boys are scheduled to take on the Thailand U-16 team one more time in mid-July in addition to playing practice games against two local clubs when they visit the country before a week long stopover in Kuala Lampur for a friendly against the Malaysian U-16 team towards the end of the tour.

The Malaysia stopover has been planned to acclimatise the squad and get the feel of the pitch and conditions before they return for the big-ticket championship in September.

The All India Football Federation has been on an effort to improve the quality of Indian football with investment into the age group scouting and building a competitive team for continental tournaments across categories.

After India’s aspiring FIFA U-17 World Cup participation, AIFF is focused on grooming a team capable of qualifying for the FIFA events by right in future. The assembling of current India U-16 team is one such vision envisaged by the Indian federation twelve months back. With the support from Sports Authority of India (SAI), the U-16 project has made satisfactory progress. Over the last twelve months, the team has shaped up well with the liking of the coach Bibiano Fernandes and have been on experiential tour having practised and played competitive games across continents to gain experience and exposure.

On the eve of leaving for China, coach Bibiano Fernandes said, “I am fortunate to have these group of boys, the majority of them being with me since U-15 competitions. It has been an exciting journey for us over the last 14-16 months in preparing for AFC U-16 finals and I am happy to have got ample opportunities to test our mettle against quality opponents and different conditions to get the right balance in the squad.”

“We have reminded ourselves of our targets every time we have stepped on the field and the boys have worked towards it every single day.”

India has been drawn in Group C of the AFC U-16 Championship alongside Iran, Vietnam and Indonesia. The AFC U-16 Championship featuring 16 teams will be held from September 20th to October 7th in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A top-four finish would earn India the bragging rights to play the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru.

Kushal Das, General Secretary, AIFF expressed satisfaction on the shaping up of the U16 team and progress over last twelve months.

“These are interesting days for football in India. The Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports and Sports Authority of India believes in the Indian football dream. Having invaluable sport coming from the Sports Secretary and Director General SAI made AIFF’s job much easier. It ensured our coach and the boys get the best of what’s needed to gear up for the competition.”

“AFC competitions are never easy, but I am personally satisfied to see the team has come together well. As we set in for the final leg of our preparation, the July tour assumes importance with opportunities to play seven ties against China, Thailand, Malaysia and DPR Korea U-16 national sides,” Das added.

(AIFF Media)