Even though India couldn’t perform to their true potential in the recently-concluded Granatkin Memorial Tournament in Russia, coach Floyd Pinto feels the team will be “very encouraged by the gradual improvement in performance” ahead of the upcoming AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers which is scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in November 2019.
“All of us are disappointed with the results but we’re very encouraged by the gradual improvement in performance. We couldn’t perform well in our first game. Considering the Russia game. which was understandably the toughest match in the tournament, we were a bit cagey.”
He added, “After that, we improved gradually and played toe-to-toe with every opposition. It’s very encouraging for us to maintain equal or more possession than some of the opponents. We have found a lot about our players.”
India suffered a narrow 0-1 defeat to Tajikistan to finish at the bottom of the table yesterday but Pinto mentioned that these five international matches aided them to review their performances against quality opponents.
“As I said before, our primary aim was to give chances to as many players as possible and mostly to those players who are playing with the team for the first time. We wanted to give them the opportunity to express themselves, make mistakes on the pitch, learn from them so that we can review our true potential.”
He maintained: “We have got a good bunch of players who can form the core of the team and push for the AFC U-19 Qualifiers. So, we are pretty much satisfied with the aim that we have had but not results. We will need to go back to the drawing board and regroup ourselves. Nonetheless, these five international matches have helped our preparation a lot and hopefully, we will get a few more before the continental qualifiers.”
Akash Mishra, who had a terrific outing in Russia, impressed his mentor very much and the 33-year-old coach didn’t hesitate to heap praises on the youngster, “Akash, arguably, has been our best player in this tournament. He is one of those players who have earned the place in the starting line-up straight away. It’s not easy to break into the team from outside competing with the U-17 world cuppers.”
Akash was drafted in the Indian Arrows setup last year but unfortunately, had to sit out for the major part of the season due to the knee injury that he was carrying from the exposure trip to Serbia and Croatia earlier last year.
“He is a strong character, physically imposing defender and he’s more than handy at the opposite end as well. He scored a couple of goals and had a goal disallowed. We are very encouraged by his performance. Akash is one of the bright sparks that helps the team, fires the team up and hopefully, he can continue his form in the upcoming games,” Pinto concluded.