The Indian U-16 boys are getting set to begin their campaign at the AFC U-16 Championships, with their first game slated to take place on Friday against Vietnam. They will also face Iran and Indonesia in the group stage and will be aiming to reach the last four of the competition and create history.
A semifinal finish will guarantee them a place in the FIFA U-17 World Cup next year in Peru and make them the first Indian team to qualify for a World Cup at any age group level. AIFF Media spoke to senior national team captain Sunil Chhetri about the young colts and he was full of praise for them!
The U-16 boys have played 20 international matches against U-16 National Teams (which include USA, Serbia, Japan, Iraq, DPR Korea among all) since January 2018. How much does that help?
It helps in a big way. The team is already doing well and training under a very able coach and playing games against the likes of USA, Japan, Iraq – and mind you all U-16 National Teams. It gives our boys that much-needed experience which will turn them into better players.
Understandably a lot many kids of the U-16 squad stay in awe of you and idolise you. Your comments.
(Laughs). That’s flattering. I have seen them play and are far better than any U-16 team whom I have seen previously. I am their biggest fan.
You have watched them play courtesy some online streaming. What struck you the most?
The unity in the team, the fearless nature of the boys and the skills impressed me immensely. The first touch of almost everyone was a delight to watch. It just tells you how well they have been coached. The boys are talented, and seem to be eager to work hard and learn. On top of that having Bibiano Fernandes as their coach has given them the leader they needed to improve to their fullest.
They are clubbed in a group involving Iran, Indonesia and Vietnam. With all your experience, what would be your message for them prior to the tournament?
I would tell them to make sure we prepare as well as we can. And once you reach tournament you just need to relax. I am sure they will give 100% on the field. I just want them to enjoy every bit of it. I will also be praying that no one gets injured. Touch wood. Continue the good work and be humble.
You had watched the U-17 World Cup team play last season and now this batch. Are the younger teams a bit more confident nowadays.
Obviously. They are far more confident and definitely much more prepared and aware.